Email: Nearly five decades old and still going strong.

It seems almost unbelievable that the first e-mail was sent nearly 50 years ago. That makes e-mail older than the majority of the people who live in the United States.

But in another sense, e-mail seems timeless. That’s underscored in the results from Adobe’s latest Consumer E-Mail Survey Report, released this past month.

One of the key findings from that survey is that ~85% of the respondents see their use of e-mail increasing or staying the same over the next two years.

Even many Gen Z respondents – people in their 20s – see their use of e-mail in similar terms; ~41% of them predict that their use of e-mail at work will increase, and ~30% see the same happening in their personal e-mail use.

In the work environment, e-mail has solidified itself as the preferred method of communication for many of the activities of daily interaction. When compared against other methods of communication like phone, face-to-face interaction, instant messaging, video chat, file sharing and enterprise social networks, e-mail comes out on top in many instances:

  • Communicating status updates on a project: ~60% prefer e-mail, followed by phone (~16%)
  • Delivering feedback: ~52% prefer e-mail, followed by phone (~30%)
  • Getting a brief question answered: ~35% prefer e-mail, followed by face-to-face (~25%)

And yet … there are a number of tasks where a face-to-face conversation is more preferred as a communications method:

  • Suggesting a new approach or idea
  • Asking for help on a big project
  • Alerting your manager or boss of an important issue

But without a doubt, “quitting your job” is where more than three-fourths of respondents consider a face-to-face communication as the most appropriate method, compared to just 11% who consider e-mail to be appropriate for communicating that kind of news.

These characteristics serve to illustrate that e-mail’s big power is in its efficiency and effectiveness for facilitating more “transactional” communications. But for topics and tasks that require more social finesse – like asking for help, pitching a new idea, or discussing problems – face-to-face interaction still rules the day.

This explains e-mail’s ubiquity and its staying power. It’s quite elegant, really; tt does what it needs to do – communicating quickly and efficiency without unnecessary complications.

  • E-mail enables both send and receive to communicate on their respective timelines, without disruption.
  • It provides an archival record of communication (just ask Wikileaks).
  • It’s fully integrated into people’s work flows.

This last point helps explain why so many “alternative” communication methods fail to catch on in a major way. The next time you hear of some start-up enterprise promising to abolish the inbox, take it with a big grain of salt.

History and logic would suggest that something, someday would overtake e-mail and make it obsolete. After all, in the 50 years since e-mail has been with us, we’ve see all sorts of other communications tools lose their luster – think VCRs, FAX machines, tape decks, QR codes, and information on CD-ROM.

But e-mail may be the exception. It’s pretty amazing how something that’s changed so little over the decades is still such an integral part of our communications.

More findings from the 2017 Adobe survey are summarized here.

This email signature block says it all …

signature areaOver the years, I’ve noticed how signature blocks at the bottom of business e-mails have been getting longer and more elaborate.

Remember the days of simply showing an office address, phone, FAX and e-mail? That disappeared a long time ago.

Why it’s happened is all a function of the many ways people can and do choose to communicate today.

For folks in the marketing and sales field, sometimes the contact options go overboard. Not long ago, I received an e-mail pertaining to a business service pitch. Here’s what the sender had included in the signature area at the bottom of his e-mail message:

  • If you’re a phone person, here’s my mobile number:
  • If you’re a text person, send a message to my cell:
  • If you’re an email person, here’s my address:
  • If you’re an instant message person, here’s my Google ID:
  • If you’re a Skype person, here’s my handle:
  • If you’re a Twitter person, here’s my username:
  • If you’re a Facebook person, here’s my page:
  • If you’re a face-to-face person, here’s my office location:

The only thing missing was Pinterest, and a FAX number …

Seeing this signature block was a stark reminder of the myriad ways people are connecting with their business and personal contacts.

Nothing new in that, of course — but seeing it presented in one big bundle really drove the point home.

Scott Ginsberg
Scott Ginsberg

Later, I discovered that this litany of contact options was first popularized four or five years ago by the business author and blogger Scott Ginsberg. Evidently, others have now picked up and run with the same concept.

Taken together, it’s no wonder people feel busier today than ever before, despite all of the ways in which digital technology purports to simplify communication and make it more efficient.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the old days … but at times, there’s a certain attraction to the idea of not having to be “always on” in “so many places,” no?

Internet Properties: No Longer an American Monopoly

The amount of translated content is also showing big-time growth.

languageAccording to an analysis by venture capitalist and Internet industry specialist Mary Meeker, in 2013 nine of the ten top global Internet properties were U.S.-based.

For the record, they were as follows (in order of ranking):

  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo
  • Wikipedia
  • Amazon
  • Ask
  • Glam Media
  • Apple

Only China-based Tencent cracked the Top Ten from outside the United States — and it just barely made it in as #10 in the rankings.

And yet … the same Top 10 Internet properties had nearly 80% of their users located outside America.

With such a disparity between broad-based Internet usage and concentrated Internet ownership, the picture was bound to change.

And boy, has it changed quickly:  Barely a year later — as of March 2014 — the Top 10 listing now contains just six American-based companies.

Ask, Glam Media and Apple have all fallen off the list, replaced by three more China-based properties:  Alibaba, Baidu and Sohu.

Paralleling this trend is another one:  a sharp increase in the degree to which businesses are providing content in multiple languages.

For websites that offer some form of translated content, half of them are offering it in at least six languages.  That’s double the number of languages that were being offered a year earlier.

And for a quarter of these firms, translated content is available in 15 or more languages.

What are the most popular languages besides English?  Spanish, French, Italian and German are popular — not a great surprise there.  But other languages that are becoming more prevalent include Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

In fact, the average volume of translated content has ballooned nearly 90% within just the past year.

The growing accuracy of computer-based translation modules — including surprisingly good performance in “idiomatic” language — is certainly helping the process along.

Moreover, when a major site like Facebook reports that its user base in France grew from 1.4 million to 2.4 million within just three months of offering its French-language site, it’s just more proof that the world may be getting smaller … but native language still remains a key to maximizing business success.

It’s one more reminder that for any company which hopes to compete in a transnational world, offering content in other languages isn’t just an option, but a necessity in order to build and maintain a strategic advantage.