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Sorry RSS, E-mail Is Here To Stay

bq. “Video killed the radio star…”
That wasn’t only the first “video”: played on MTV, it’s also wrong.
It seems that throughout history whenever a new medium for communication arrives, the death knell for the previous is sounded. Movies meant the death of radio, TV meant the death of both radio and film, and the Internet meant the end of everything. Lately, the death knell has been sounding for email. *Email for personal communication is unlikely to be replaced.* How we read that email and on what kinds of devices: that is anyone’s guess. But business email is also unlikely to be completely replaced by technologies such as RSS(Real Simple Syndication).
h3. Ease of delivery
Email is a killer app. An overused term, but a good one, because email was and is a killer app. For the majority of the population, there may have been other factors, but you bought a computer to be able to email regularly. RSS is never going to be an individually personalized delivery vehicle, but will likely become a standard for delivering customizable content. The value of email is immediately obvious ; RSS is more of a sell job and is likely to become an embedded technology versus a driving technology. In other words, you will still have an email address in 2020. It may not be called an email address, and it may not look like the email addresses we have today, but there will still be a way to delivery personal virtual messages into a semi-permanent mailbox.

h3. Adoption
Email adoption rates are incredibly high. And as long as large quantities of people are using email, advertisers and marketers will be working to reach those people. Email won’t go away until people decide it isn’t useful anymore. Spam was becoming enough of a nuisance that using email was becoming less convenient, but do you know anyone who’s actually talked about giving it up? (If so, please email me, I’d love to talk to them for a future issue!)
h3. Personalization
There’s a big difference between customization and personalization, and unlike web pages, RSS, blogging and podcasting, you can’t effectively personalize content without email. The key to email is that it’s push, not pull, and doesn’t rely on the user to take any action. It just arrives, and is personal to you, and that combination is without peer in the entire landscape of advertising and marketing. It’s a wonder that anyone spends money on TV ads anymore for anything other than big blitz launches.
h3. Timeliness
A last minute seat sale. The flat screen TV you’ve been hankering for just got to the price you can stomach. A house with all your requirements has arrived on the market. There’s no other medium that can wed need and offer as effectively – and enable the user to control the experience by defining their criteria and managing information to wean it down to what you really want to know.
In other words, we’re going to see a lot of movement in this various forms of media over the next few years, and a lot of change in form factors as well. “This”: may have the biggest impact in how we interface with data and information over the course of our lifetimes – and we may yet see that scene in “Minority Report”:, where commuters on the subway watch their newspapers change as the headlines do. And maybe that’s how we’ll be reading our email as well.


  1. Michael Seaton
    Michael Seaton March 31, 2006

    Great post Jennifer.
    I believe it comes down to using each digital distribution point (RSS, email, podcast, blog) for it’s inherent strength. Ultimately, it is about providing choice for the consumer. I love my email and love my RSS feeds for different reasons.
    RSS is not yet fully understood by mainstream marketers or the general public for that matter. Maybe it’s not as easy to grasp or as ubiquitous as email. Putting them in a competition with each other is missing the point that the whole online experience is about the sum of all parts.
    Ken, you have been quite outspoken on the death of email. Any comments?

  2. Ken Schafer - One Degree
    Ken Schafer - One Degree March 31, 2006

    I was hoping NOT to comment on this and let some others pick up the ball and share opinions – pro or con.
    But since you asked…
    I don’t think that e-mail will disappear but I also don’t think that e-mail NEWSLETTERS are a good idea.
    If you are going to the trouble of creating original content for your community, why not get it online and into the eco-sytem of the blogosphere with feeds and proper referencable URLs and Google-juice and all that goodness?
    Sure, send e-mail updates on what you’ve added, but not restrict it to that channel. E-newsletters are entirely the wrong model for the 21st century. For years we’ve been trying to jam viral effects into e-mail via “forward to a friend” features when they work so much better on the Web.
    End of rant.
    Jen, my kids only check e-mail to talk to grown-ups and a few friends who have very limited Net access and therefore don’t IM. Their entire world is IM and personal homepages. They’re growing up thinking that e-mail as WAY too slow, too long, too boring, too full of junk, and too much of a bother.

  3. Chris Byrne
    Chris Byrne March 31, 2006

    Not really a rant, just your point of view, like “this is how I wish to receive information”. But it’s just one way. Newsletters are not restricted to email. Many providers publish via fax, sms and RSS too.
    My customers tell me they love Newsletters -and use RSS too- so like the Mainframe, they’re here as long as email is here.

  4. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac April 3, 2006

    Really interesting article. Thanks, Jennifer.
    I definitely don’t think it is going to be an either/or situation between email & RSS, but I disagree with your breakdown of characteristics that make email successful. I’m an RSS fan and some of the qualities that you list for email are reasons why I love RSS:
    Personalization – there is a wine distributor in California (name escapes me) where you can sign up for a personalised feed for when your wine shipment comes in. Even better .. I can use OPML to splice a couple of feeds together (including search feeds) and create a super-personalised RSS feed. Now, I am concerned about the *security* of RSS feeds … I’ve not seen any that are password protected in the same way that email is yet, but I’m sure that is coming.
    Timeline – I actually find RSS more timely than email. Amex Travel is delivering last minute travel deals over RSS instead of email. This kind of choice will likely come down to preferred way of working, but I don’t think an argument can be made for email against RSS based on timeliness.
    Adoption – certainly no one I know is giving up email, but they are trying to reduce their email clutter. And I’m not talking about Spam, but about knowledge-rich content that is trapped in emails. Colleagues are trying to free up that content and put it into a blog that is then delivered via RSS. Much harder to do when great content is trapped in your inbox.
    The point, though, is that they are both enabling technologies. So, like other commenters, I am concerned when they are pitted against one another. It’s a false dichotomy that misses the larger potential for microchunking and delivering content on multiple devices, particularly beyond the desktop.
    Oh … and I love my email newsletters. One of the great things that I think email has going for it is the presentation layer. I receive some very magazine-like emails and I love them. I feel good about the brands that deliver them and enjoy reading them. This is one place that I think email currently excels. Though if someone wants that content via RSS without some of the presentation layer, I do think it should be available.
    Thanks again, Jennifer, for a thought-provoking article!

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