Email is old and in decline. Chat, texting and social networks are how people interact now, right?
Well, not so fast.
With every new social network and social service, with every new instant and not-so-instant way to communicate, email rises in importance. The reason is that with everybody choosing a different communications medium, email is increasingly the only one we all have in common. It's the glue that holds the social Web together.
I prefer Google+. My mom and one of my kids are on Facebook. My other kid is on Twitter. One of my nieces is on Pinterest. One of my best friends is on Path. Another is on Pheed. My dad isn't really sure what a social network is.
The fact that everybody is using a social network, and a different one, doesn't matter. I still reach them all thanks to the Mother of All Social Networks -- email.
It helps that the regular social networks do (and must) integrate with email. For example, on Google+ I've added non-Google+ users to my circles. When I post to "Family," the family members on Google+ get a post in their stream and the rest get the post in their email in-boxes.
I also have my most important circles update me via Gmail. Those posts just show up there, and I can engage with them instantly, right in the message.
Even though I don't use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or other social networks much, I do have all those services set up to send, via email, posts from the people on those services I care about.
In all those cases, email is an extension of Google+. Email takes social networking posts where the social networks cannot go.
(It's a category-busting irony that I do all of my blogging on a social network and much of my social networking in an email service.)
Like everybody else, I use a wide variety of communications media. But email is the central element in all of them.
So email is the glue that holds together dedicated social networks. It's also the biggest social network by far. There are 2.4 billion people on the Internet worldwide, according to website monitoring service Pingdom, and 2.2 billion of them use email.
That's why the idea that young people will never use email is absurd. Sure, high school kids can get by with just Snapchat. But once you have a job and an adult life, not using email is like not having a phone. Opting out of email is career suicide.
What's really interesting to me is that email has recently become an exciting category. No, really!
What is email, anyway?
Email is really two things. First, it's an Internet-based messaging format standard. That's the part of email that makes it universal and therefore indispensable.
But email is also a software and cloud application category. And that's where the excitement is happening.
Recent innovations in user interface design and improvements in sorting algorithms have massively improved the experience of using email.
More to the point, software design has caught up with the reality of what people are really doing with email. Primarily, people are doing social networking, as in networking socially or professionally with the people they know. They're doing this email-to-email and also email-to-social-network.