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The Coming Death of Email

By Julie King |

Email as we know may soon find itself on life support.

The critical question is: what will replace it?

Just as video killed the proverbial radio star, social networking sites have created a new paradigm for online communications.

On Facebook, for example, there are many ways to communicate with friends and colleagues. You can comment on their status, send them a direct message or post comments, photos and videos on their walls and super walls.

What is helpful is that this communication is not tied to a particular computer or device, which is the case for many business email systems.

More important in the coming transformation, however, is that a better paradigm is emerging for the management of communications in the business world.

It is possible, of course, to store all your email online, which lets you retrieve it from multiple computers. What becomes frustrating in the business world is that all communication is sorted into big buckets. Even if you automatically filter emails into folders, chances are good that these folders will still quickly become flooded on a busy project, making it difficult to pinpoint important communications quickly and efficiently.

The problem gets worse when a project involves a team of people and someone forgets to cc other team members. When this happens important communications get lost in individual email accounts.

The key, I believe, is a new paradigm built around a paradigm similar to what Facebook offers.

Here is what I picture as an ideal solution.

As a business, when I wanted to communicated online I would no longer open my email inbox. Instead, I would log on to a communications centre. Similar to Facebook, those people I allow into my communications network would be authorized to send messages with one critical difference: these messages would only be visible to all authorized recipients.

I would have project walls that would let me quickly view and manage communications with different groups of people. Individual project walls would have a communication circle, similar to Facebook's group feature, that would define access for each particular project.

Picture a designer - Jack -- with four active projects. On one project, a brochure design, there are three others in the communication circle: Diane, Sanjeed and Scott.

When any of the four log on to their projects wall they will have different projects listed and one project in common: the brochure design. When they click through to the page for that project they reach a collaborative wall that includes all communication related to the project.

Now documents are no longer trapped in people's POP mailbox accounts, but are easily accessible to all. And messages on the wall would have different status settings - things like pending, current, archived and confirmation needed - to make it easy to view active communications while still providing easy access to archived discussion threads.

It also eliminates the need to track a long string of former messages in your replies: hallelujah! This will be particularly useful for small mobile screens.

Another key advantage is that this method of communication puts an immediate screen on spam, taking the concept of the white list to a whole new level.

It's quite similar to a wiki, only better. There is still a single source for communication and document sharing, but correspondence does not disappear through page edits.

There is definitely a role for email in this new paradigm: that of the gatekeeper and notifier.

As a gatekeeper, email will enable you to receive communications from the "outside world" - those who are not yet allowed into your inner circle communication centre.

It is also a useful tool that can be used to let you know when you get a message or file, providing a quick summary of the contents of that post, similar to the notification settings currently used by Facebook.

An interesting thing about the much touted Web 2.0 is that we have switched to a model where consumer technology breaks new ground and then slowly works its way into the business world. Don't be surprised if your current use of email become outmoded in the coming years, as social media paradigms follow suit.

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