IM revolution breaking email's time-wasting grip

By Adam Sherwin

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Imagine it: a life freed from the drudgery of deleting an inbox full of "unbeatable offers" and the latest missive on paper clips from head office.

Email could follow the telex into the dustbin of communication tools we have loved and discarded, if Thierry Breton, head of Paris-based information technology services company Atos, is a guide to the future.

Breton is to ban his staff from sending each other emails, complaining they waste time and are outmoded. Only 10 per cent of the 200 electronic messages his employees each get daily turn out to be useful, Breton claims.

"The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face [in the future]. It is time to think differently."

Internal email will be phased out inside 18 months at Atos. The 75,000 staff will instead use instant messaging and chat-style collaborative services inspired by social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

Atos staff used to spend many hours each day dealing with email, but use of Breton's replacements has cut its use by up to 20 per cent.

His strategy has already been adopted by teenagers, who are shunning the now middle-aged email, which was first developed in 1971. Email use is down 31 per cent among the 12-17 age group this year, with a further 21 per cent slump among those aged 18-24.

Mobile instant messaging (IM) services such as Blackberry Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger have supplanted ponderous email for the tech-savvy next generation. Mobile IM users are predicted to exceed 1.3 billion worldwide by 2016.

Mark Zuckerberg sought to capitalise on this with Facebook Messages, which merges text messages, IM and email into a single interface for 750 million users.

"High school kids don't use email, they use SMS a lot," the 27-year-old social networking pioneer said. "People want lighter-weight things like SMS and IM to message each other."

For users, IM offers the immediacy that an email, often left unread, cannot.

But if those teens are fortunate enough to find jobs, they are likely to still find themselves enmeshed in email's spam-blighted grip. The proportion of companies sending more than 50,000 emails a month has gradually risen, from 40 per cent in 2007 to almost two-thirds (60 per cent) this year. Spam still accounts for an estimated 89 per cent of all emails.

Tim Walters, senior analyst at technology research company Forrester Research, said: "Email is disruptive, wastes a great deal of time and it's miserable as a collaborative tool. But it's still used daily by 85 per cent of workers."

What could replace email as a hassle-free, more collaborative communication tool?

Yammer, a micro-blogging "Facebook for business" that allows groups of employees to share ideas through private communication, is now used by more than 80,000 firms.

Breton has introduced the Atos Wiki, which allows all employees to communicate by contributing or modifying online content, and Office Communicator, the company's online chat system.

- Independent

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