E-mail is here to stay, though it may change form
Ray Tomlinson, father of the e-mail service. Photo: Courtesy: Raytheon BBN Technologies

E-mail is here to stay, though it may change form

Mumbai, September 6, 2012

You may use it, hate it, love it, pause it, spam it, but just can’t ignore it. Not yet, at least.

Last week, after my website had reported on a new plug-in (tiny bits of software that are attached to a larger programme) called the ‘Inbox Pause’, readers wrote in with divergent views. The plug-in helps you “pause” the inflow of emails into the In-box till such time you are ready to receive them. Then, you simply “unpause” it. Unfortunately, this radical piece of code only works on Gmail.
While some readers said how the pause button would help them block spam, others derided it, saying that email was dying, anyway. Interesting bit of observation, that. But was it really true, I asked myself?
Then, coincidentally, just before I sat down to write this column, there appeared a report in the tech blog, ReadWriteWeb, that focused upon the same issue
But before I take that road, here’s a quiz – Do you know who’s the father of the email? Or, when was the first ever e-mail sent? No? Well, that title goes to programmer Ray Tomlinson, who is currently Prinicipal Engineer at the well-known US based tech development company, Raytheon BBN Technologies. He claims to have sent out the first ever email in......hold your breath....1971! When he did that, he was working as an engineer at Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), (much before it was acquired by Raytheon) which had been contracted to develop ARPANET, the first version of the Internet, as we know it today. (That Ray chose to stick on with BBN in today’s competitive world may be the subject of another article altogether!)
Anyway, back to the question – so is e-mail dying? According to the inventor, in an interview with Mark Hachman, the author of the ReadWriteWeb article, the answer is a clear no. Ray seems pretty sure about it. Why? In his opinion, no other service has been able to fill the e-mail space. The e-mail may undergo a transformation, may even change name, but its basic function shall always remain, he says.
I did a little investigation of my own to establish the popularity, or lack of it, of the e-mail. (I have already mentioned some of the figures I am about to quote now, in one of my previous columns.) There are approximately 6 billion e-mail accounts in the world. This figure varies between 4-6 billion, depending on the agency counting them, and the technique of counting.
Anywhere between 145 billion and 300 billion e-mails are being sent out on a daily basis. Again, the figures vary, depending on who you choose to believe. Many online agencies have even forecast massive growths for e-mail accounts in the next decade. Oh, and by the way, even in today’s era of free e-mail service, there are still e-mail providers who charge you a fee for opening an e-mail account. At last count, they claimed to be doing reasonably well.
But are these facts and figures enough to counter the e-mail doomsdayers? Let’s look at the other side of the story. Almost everyone in the digital world including Ray agrees that a bulk of e-mails today are nothing but spam. Some agencies have pegged this figure as high as 80%.
They also insist that e-mail is so old world now; I mean, old digital world. We are surrounded by chats, messenger services, short text messages....and so on and so forth. That’s seems to be the younger generation’s favourite form of communication today. Ask your teenage child when was the last time he/she sent out an email?
While in their earlier form, instant chats did not have retention power - you had to be sitting in front of your PC to be always chatting - that’s no longer true. Almost all of these services now have an offline avatar, and if you happen to miss a chat message, you are alerted of it by way of...well, an e-mail!
So, yes, I feel the e-mail will always be around Ray, don’t you worry. It may transmute, it may be called something else. But stay it will. 
I shall leave you with one last point in this debate – what happened to regular mail and telephone calls that the email was kind of supposed to replace? They are still around, aren’t they?
Here comes the Apple iPhone 5
Finally, the doctor has given a “tentative” due date for this baby. September 12. That’s the day when Apple’s iPhone 5 shall be born. A much awaited event worldwide, everybody seems pretty sure about the birth date. That’s because Apple has sent out an invitation to the world media for a press conference in San Francisco, USA, with a very symbolic number 12 written on it, casting a shadow of the number 5.
The launch will be right in time for my next column. So, next week, hopefully, I will be tellingall of you about the iPhone 5, its pros and cons, and how the world ushered it in.

Previous columns by Sorab Ghaswalla

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