R.I.P. E-Mail, 1961-201012:27 PM EST Mon. Dec. 06, 2010
E-mail is dead. It died surrounded by friends, family, corporate networks, hackers and users from all over the world.
Its survivors include SMS Text Messaging, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, BlackBerry messaging, iPhone's Facetime and dozens of collaboration applications.
Born in research labs of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1961, e-mail rose to prominence in the late 1980s through the late 1990s with services including CompuServe, AOL (nee America Online), as well as client/server computing. It reached adolescence with the growth of Microsoft Exchange and Outlook and Lotus Notes.
Often described during those years as a "killer app," e-mail solved business and communication problems encountered by far-flung national and international organizations. It eventually expanded into areas including contact management and calendaring, becoming a staple of communication.
While e-mail technically remained a strong, must-have piece of software, problems began to emerge by the late 1990s with the advent of the "Nigerian Prince" scams and emergence of "reply all" abuse. E-mail often began to find itself as a weapon of choice by office weasels everywhere, who sought to build audit trails to prove that co-workers did, in fact, read the memo at 4:57 p.m. on a Friday.
E-mail's future, however, began to come into serious question with the issue of spam. Then-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, in 2003, told the U.S. Senate in testimony:
"The torrent of unwanted, unsolicited, often offensive and sometimes fraudulent e-mail is eroding trust in technology, costing business billions of dollars a year, and decreasing our collective ability to realize technology's full potential."
After the dot-com meltdown, U.S. government prosecutors found that they had a treasure trove of potential evidence against companies contained in their e-mail archives--and the federal government enacted the Sarbanes-Oxley law to force public companies to protect and save e-mail. Microsoft, for example, was almost required to break itself into smaller companies because of evidence antitrust investigators found, ironically enough, through e-mail exchanges by Bill Gates and Microsoft executives.
Elsewhere, businesses found their e-mail systems hacked and customer and corporate data either stolen, destroyed or lost, costing untold millions of dollars. Other businesses found themselves spending untold billions of dollars on e-mail-specific security.
Late last month, Facebook announced it would integrate various aspects of messaging--including e-mail--into its social networking service to provide enhanced communication. E-mail could never recover.
A memorial service for e-mail will be held, continuously, on Twitter at the hashtag, #email.