It's an interesting question, and one that's being raised by Gartner which is predicting that the number of wireless e-mail users will reach an incredible one billion , worldwide, by the end of 2014. A number that's not too hard to accept, given that earlier this year global business wireless e-mail accounts were being estimated in the region of 80 million, and that's equivalent to around 60 million individual users.
Monica Basso, research vice president at Gartner, points to how the productivity gains achieved with using wireless e-mail are driving adoption beyond the purely executive reach and reveals that "in 2010, enterprise wireless e-mail is still a priority for organizations, whose mobile workforces are up to 40 per cent of the total employee base. Most midsize and large organizations in North America and Europe have deployed enterprise wireless e-mail already, but on average, for less than five percent of the workforce."
The really interesting stuff starts as wireless e-mail begins to integrate more completely with social networking. There is no doubt that social networking is starting to complement e-mail already as far as interpersonal business communications are concerned. But Gartner is going further, and predicting that courtesy of standardisation, interoperability and the increasing commoditization of mobile email services, vendors are looking to pursue a differentiation into the cloud and into collaborative services. As a result, Gartner says, that social networking services "will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications" at least for some 20 percent of business users within that three year timescale.
"People increasingly want to use mobile devices for collaboration to share content, information, and experiences with their communities" Basso says, adding "social paradigms are converging with e-mail, instant messaging, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) and presence, creating new collaboration styles."
Personally speaking, there are only a handful of my contacts who tend to use a Twitter Direct Message to contact me in confidence rather than using e-mail. However, a lot of conversations that only a couple of years ago would have taken place within the back-and-forth of an email thread are now being played out on Twitter and Facebook, and to a lesser extent LinkedIn, instead.
I can't help but wonder if my news headline should have been changed from 'Is social networking killing e-mail?' to 'Is Twitter killing the news?' instead though.
For me, this most interesting aspect of social networking influence has been missed by Gartner. I appreciate the irony of a news writer talking about how news is moving to Twitter, but my guts tell me that's the way it is going. At least as far as breaking news within a global context is concerned. Whenever there is a major natural disaster or terrorist incident happening, it unfolds first on Twitter as bystanders reach for their mobile phones and post a brief message expressing shock or outrage. Sure, newsfeeds pick up on it soon enough, but cannot compete with the raw, unedited and completely personal reactions of those on the spot. Even the biggest and most well resourced new networks take time to reach a location, fact check and then react.
Twitter, on the other hand, has multiple reporters in every corner of the planet and most of them do not care about the intricacies of the news process: they see something, they Tweet it. Simple as. What's more, the number of these reporters are growing at an incredible rate: in just four months some five million Tweets were posted , for example.
Twitter won't take over from news, as we always need professionals who understand the importance of fact checking and proper reporting practise. You've only got to look at the recent Steve Jobs to recall iPhone 4 story to see the importance of Twitter fact checking after all. What it will do, and is already doing, is change the way that news is broken and that sends a ripple right down the news reporting chain.