Even more than web browsing or the phone, the application which has perhaps changed the way we communicate and interact in the last few years has been email. According to a recent study, executives are spending an average of two hours daily on their email, and this figure is likely to double in the next 2 years. Email came as the perfect antidote for phone-tag (leaving messages for one another on voice mail, since we were all “not available on the desk right now”). Email has also made geography irrelevant. For the first time in history, the cost of near-instantaneous communications is down to nearly zero.
Email has dramatically increased the parallel conversations and relationships we are all managing. With phone, fax and letters, we could only interact with so many people. But, one look at our address books will show that email has perhaps increased the number of conversation threads and our circle of friends/associates by perhaps a factor of 5, if not more. All this in a kind of non-intruding manner – the asynchronous nature of email, its ability to give the user the control on reading and responding is one of the factors which has made I for many the preferred form of communications.
There are challenges going ahead for messaging. Today’s messaging systems are still not up to the mark. For example, many times when I send an email, I assume some things: (a) the other person will have got it, (b) the other person will have read it, and (c) the other person will do the action required in the email. So, this means once I send, the onus goes on the transportation system (the Internet) for delivery and the other person for the action. This is too loose a system. I need alerts if an action has not happened, or if the other person has not read or received it.
We need greater reliability, quality of service guarantees, the equivalent of the “mailtone”.
How can we ensure reachability in a manner convenient to the end user wherever the person is? We now have global networks which make reachability possible. As the pace of business increases, the need to be reached and the need for greater communications is going to exponentially increase. It will also mean that the number of messages we will each be handling will go up quite dramatically. We also need to think on the language of communications. English is going to be a minority for the people on the Net in the next 2-3 years. Supporting email in multiple languages is going to be critical going ahead.
Another key issue is security. How can I ensure that only the person at the other end reads the message I have written for him? Also, the next generation of people getting on the Net may not be as comfortable typing. What can we do to make typing easier? Or we can we use some other form of input (eg. voice?)
Instant Messaging too has become popular — what started off for chatter between friends and family is now becoming an application increasingly used by corporates. What is now being looked forward to is Unified Messaging – the ability to combine all messages (text, fax, voice, email) into a single number/address, accessible from anywhere. For most of us, the Net is less about content and commerce, it is about communications. Email remains the killer app on the Internet.