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At the after-party of GonzoCamp last Friday, I was talking to a 32-year-old Drupal developer about that content-management platform and where it is headed, and for some reason we got talking about e-mail. I think I was saying that an effective news outlet needed to have easy and flexible e-mail tools — that, even in the Twitter age, e-mailed newsletters and alerts drive a lot of traffic to news Web sites. I get alerted to a lot of news that way — it's intrusive in a good way, ensuring I don't miss stories I don't want to miss.
This guy had seemed to know what he was talking about, so I was a little startled when he said, "Nobody uses e-mail anymore." He clarified that by saying that nobody his age or younger (Generation Y) uses e-mail much, and especially not to get news. Twitter is where most people his age find out about things that are happening. E-mail, he said, is dead. "It's an old lady in the hospital on life support."
Except that it's not. According to several recent years' worth of Pew Internet and American Life surveys, a greater percentage of Generation Y than of my generation (45- to 54-year-old "Younger Boomers," if you must know) uses e-mail (94 percent vs. 90 percent) and gets news online (74 percent to 70 percent). The latter fact should be no surprise, but the former would seem to suggest that e-mail is far from being on life support.
Now, perhaps Generation Y is less likely to subscribe to e-mailed news alerts. Perhaps, as this guy said, they are more likely to use Facebook messaging (which is, essentially, a less-capable form of e-mail, if you ask me). But I bet they aren't doing so for work. And I have a hard time believing that RSS, as a tool to methodically scan news, is in widespread use by even that generation. (Anyone know where to find data on that?) RSS is a logistical nightmare for casual Internet users.
I think e-mail is going to be with us for a long time. A Generation X programmer I know recently tweeted: "One failure of Google Wave is the assumption that e-mail's constraints (e.g. thin text) are weaknesses, when they are the reasons it wins."