The survival of email – how long will it continue?

While other digital technologies have come and gone, email has endured but will we continue to use it and if so, how will it evolve?

This week is National Email Week, an excellent opportunity to celebrate email staying power and to take a deeper look at the possible evolution of this tried-and-true technology.

A brief history

The very first version of what would become known as email dates back to 1965 when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was looking for a way to let users share files and messages. In 1971, the American computer programmer Ray Tomlinson went on to invent and develop an electronic mail system similar to what we know today, by creating the Internet predecessor ARPANET’s networked mail system.

Yet it did not become a widespread medium until 1988 when Microsoft released its first commercially available email product, MSMail. By 1993, the term “electronic mail” was transformed into email and over the next few years, service providers like America Online, also known as AOL, Echomail, Hotmail, and Yahoo reached a wider audience.

The explosion of internet

By the late 1990s, internet use exploded with nearly 400 million users in 1999. Meanwhile, other technologies added new ways to communicate in real time, like AOL’s Instant Messenger launched in 1997, Yahoo Messenger released in 1998, or Microsoft’s MSN Messenger that originally came out in 1999 and was renamed as Windows Live Messenger in 2005.

In 2005, Gmail users got access to Google Talk, and then came MySpace, Twitter direct messages, Facebook Chat, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat. And, the next big messaging game changer was WhatsApp, founded in 2009.

Will we be emailing forever? | Credit: Unsplash

An enduring technology

Despite the growth and prominence of mobile messengers and chat apps like WhatsApp, e-mail has prevailed. According to Statista, in 2020, the number of global users amounted to four billion and is set to grow to 4.6 billion in 2025. That same year, approximately 306 billion mails were sent and received every day worldwide. That number is expected to further increase to over 376 billion by 2025.

Because checking email on mobile devices has become so common, the iPhone email app was found to be the most popular e-mail client, accounting for 29 percent of opens while Gmail came in second with a 27 percent open share.

>> 4.6 billion global users expected by 2025

>> 376 billion emails to be sent annually by 2025

>> 27% – Market share of Gmail

The future of email:  AI, digital fingerprints, and the end of passwords

Because it is a technology that has become so deeply embedded in our daily life, few predict the possibility of email falling into disuse. It has managed to co-exist with all of the other ways we have of communicating, thus experts like data-driven research firm, Edison Software, predict that while use will prevail, it will most likely evolve.

In the firm’s view, consumers will soon have more choices of services as the number of worldwide email accounts is expected to continue growing at a slightly faster rate than the number of worldwide users.

In addition, email intelligence is set to reach new levels with the projected incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, allowing mails to potentially self-compose and self-delete based on user preferences and habits.

As we continue to rely on digital identities, mail will solidify itself as our digital fingerprint and, the company claims, could evolve into a sort of digital social security number.

Lastly, the firm predicts that passwords will disappear as security measures continue to increase. Due to device-based authentication and advancements in biometric security, our difficult-to-remember email passwords are expected to become obsolete within the next decade. The company foresees encryption technologies evolving and strengthening the barriers around our inboxes.

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