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The Problem with Email

Email was invented in the 1970’s by and for researchers and university professors. Although email adoption has grown by orders of magnitude since then, it is essentially the same system that it was 30 years ago. As a system, email is similar to US postal delivery. It is a general delivery mechanism for anyone to send anyone anything.

A great deal of business communication and workflow is centered around email, but we question whether email is the ultimate long term solution for communication and workflow processes. While email is a good method for anyone in the world to contact you, that’s also email’s biggest problem. Most communication, both business and personal, does not come from just anyone, it comes from other members of your organization, partners, or team. It comes from “important people”.

Email as a business communication mechanism has many inherent flaws:

    • It’s too open
      Our mailboxes are filling with junk mail, and the situation is getting worse every month. Due to the inherent general delivery design of email, this problem cannot be prevented, even with the best designed email filters.
  • Email is not real time
    There is too much delay to have an active conversation, which is why more and more people are turning to instant messaging solutions (which also have their own security problems).

If you consider email for managing workflow, it has a number of additional problems:

  • It’s a poor way to share files
    They don’t arrive in nicely organized directories that allow both parties see identical file and directory structures.
  • There’s no application framework
    Email is for message-oriented content. It has no concept of a standard framework to deliver active applications.
  • It’s platform dependent
    Many organizations have members (such as development or graphics groups) who use systems other than Microsoft Windows and Outlook, which means they are left out of certain activities.
  • It’s a haphazard workflow method
    Is email really the best possible driver of corporate and organizational workflow?

Email is adequate for communicating with the world-at-large, a general delivery mailbox, but most business and organizational communications is oriented toward a relatively small teams of working relationships. Using email to drive internal business workflow is like running a business based on receiving US postal mail as it arrives at the mailbox.

If you’re very dependant on emails, maybe it’s time to consider different applications for your internal applications.


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