Microblogging Will Marginalize Corporate Email

In case you missed it last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt had this to say about the microblogging service Twitter:

Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these as sort of poor man’s email systems. In other words, they have aspects of an email system, but they don’t have a full offering. To me, the question about companies like Twitter is: Do they fundamentally evolve as sort of a note phenomenon, or do they fundamentally evolve to have storage, revocation, identity, and all the other aspects that traditional email systems have? Or do email systems themselves broaden what they do to take on some of that characteristic?

At first blush, this seemed like an example of Google not ‘getting it’ when it comes to Twitter (see the comments to the linked blog post above). But I think he’s actually on to something. It is a new way of posting notes about what you’re doing, but it also has a lot of communications usage via @replies and direct messages (DMs).

Reflecting both on Schmidt’s statement, and my own use of Yammer at my company, I’m seeing that microblogging is slowly replacing a lot of my email activity.

As more companies take up microblogging with services like Yammer, Socialcast, Present.ly and SocialText Signals, employee communications amongst employees will both increase and divert away from email. Something like this:


Socialcast’s Tim Young said this about email:

Email is dead. If your company is relying on email for communication and collaboration, your company is walking dead in this new economy.

Being the CEO of Socialcast, that’s not a surprising statement. But I think he’s more right than wrong.

The shift I describe applies regardless of the microblogging application used. Since I’m actually familiar with Yammer as a user, I’ll talk about its features in the context of this shift.

Yammer Follows the Innovator’s Dilemma Path

A useful context for thinking about Yammer versus corporate email is Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. Generally, the premise is that incumbent companies need to grow and increase the functionality of their products. This increases the products’ complexity and cost, but also increases margins. But as the incumbents are doing this, it opens an opportunity at the lower end of functionality for new companies to come in and attack the incumbents’ base. From Wikipedia, here’s a graphic that demonstrates the concept:


A useful way to think about the Innovator’s Dilemma in the enterprise software space comes from this blog post, Enterprise Software Innovator’s Dilemma. Existing vendors expand the functionality of their products, heavily relying on the requests of large customers. Over time, this has the effect of creating a robust, highly functional and more expensive offering. This trend is what opens the door for new vendors to come in.

Let’s consider Yammer in this context. Simple microblogging runs along the “low quality use” in some ways. At least in terms of the feature set. But it certainly takes “use case share” away from email.

If all you could do was make public notes, that’s the end of the story. Microblogging does not replace email. But these guys are advancing their product, and are rising up the performance axis.

Here is what Yammer now offers:

  • Behind the firewall installation
  • Public notes
  • @replies
  • DMs
  • Groups
  • Private groups
  • File attachments
  • Favorites (a form of bookmarking)
  • Tagging
  • Conversation threading
  • Unlimited character length (i.e. not limited to 140 characters)
  • Search

Look at that list. When you think about your own internal email usage, what ‘s missing? Folders or the Gmail equivalent of tags seem to be something for the down the road. I’m not an IT manager, so I’m sure there are some heavy duty infrastructure aspects of Microsoft Exchange/Outlook and Lotus Notes that are not there. Thus, Yammer still has the insurgent, disruptor profile relative to corporate email.

But don’t underestimate that. There’s what IT knows is needed behind the scenes. and then there’s what the users actually do when given the different applications.

Expanding Communications, Marginalizing Email

Microblogging’s premise is that public proclamations of what you’re doing and information that you find are a new activity for people, and they have value. Information is shared much more easily and in-the-flow of what we’re all doing anyway. In an office setting, I continue to find the way Dave Winer describes it quite useful: narrating your work.

This use case is what promises to dramatically increase communications among employees. As we’re seeing with Twitter’s explosive growth, it takes time for people to grok why they should microblog. But once they “get it”, it takes off.

So services like Yammer have your attention as you post updates and read what others post. In reaction to what someone posts, you hit the Reply button. You’re having a conversation that others can see, and join in if they want. You decide to have separate conversation with someone in this context. Do you open up your email? Or just click “Private Message” to someone? I’m willing to bet you’ll do the latter.

Which starts the marginalization of corporate email. Why? Because a lot of what’s going to generate interactions is occurring right on that microblogging app you’re looking at. It’s the most natural thing to act in-the-flow and use that application in lieu of email. Well-designed microblogging applications are also quite seductive in terms of ease-of-use.

As I’ve written before, email’s role changes in this scenario. The logical end use cases are:

  • Notifications
  • External communications

This isn’t something that’s imminent. Email is quite entrenched in daily workflow, older generations aren’t likely to stop using it and internal microblogging is still nascent.

But no one said the Innovator’s Dilemma plays out over the course of a couple years. It will take time. But watch the trends.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.


About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

64 Responses to Microblogging Will Marginalize Corporate Email

  1. jeroendemiranda says:


    This is an excellent post. Great to link the emergence of microblogging to the theory of Christensen on disruptive innovations! Reading his books are the best way to truely understand the business impact of web 2.0 technologies.

    I have presented on this topic to a group of civil servants in december 2008; I slowly see internal microblogging emerging.

    See also:

    • Thanks Jeroen. I really do see microblogging taking over the lions share of internal communications in the years ahead. The public sharing of things is such a leap forward over email. It opens up a lot of person and informaiton discovery that just does not happen with email. Once Yammer and the others add private, directed communications aspects, they really do offer a compelling alternative to corporate email.

  2. Neuromancer says:

    interesting email has revocation who knew(i assume Eric was talking about no revocation here) has some one not told Eric that OSI Mail lost ot the that shoddy RFC 822 crap 🙂

  3. Craig Peters says:

    I hate the term “microblogging” almost as much as I despise “blogosphere” — I think of Twitter as hyper-networked instant messaging.

    It’s all irrelevant, anyway, I suppose — 2 is the new 140: http://www.twittwo.com

  4. kbeek says:

    Thans for the excellent post. Reminds me that I still have to take Thinking outside the inbox as Luis Suarez calls it (http://www.elsua.net/tag/thinking-outside-the-inbox/).

    I’m using both twitter and yammer for work purposes. Yammer is slowly catching up speed at my ministry. It doesn’t replace email yet, but I can’t wait for it to do so as I hate the fact that my inbox is my memory (which is unaccessable for collegues).

  5. joshdamis says:

    Great post! I think this really would be the most efficient way for corporations to communicate. My employer frequently sends me e-mails that are basically spam because they’re completely irrelevant to my job’s purposes, but since they FWD everyone, I have to weed through it all.

  6. Well I do hope twittering and e mailing both give up. This is the most stupid thing I have ever done to twitter. (Hell I don’t even have a cell phone.) I do think the computer has made everyone much less kind, and less open to real talking with people. Very sad.

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  8. Dan says:

    Pssh. I gave up on Yammer after a month passed and I was the only person on it who used it. We all use a chat room instead; way better.

  9. Ari says:

    If you think e-mail is dead, then you need a good dose of common sense.

    When two services serve different needs, the success of one is not a threat to the other. SMS on phones did not kill voice calls- sometimes we want to text, sometimes we want to ralk.

    Instant messaging did not kill e-mail. Sometimes we want to IM, sometimes we want to e-mail.

    Why e-mail will not go away: (1) You can choose who you want to communicate with. With microblogging, you can only communicate with people who subscribe to you (2) You can forward the same message to a number of people (3) You can write longer messages- yes, not all commnication can be under 140 characters (4) Easy reply (5) Easy strorage and referencing for later. Some things are worth keeping

    I could go on, but you get the picture.

    • Ari – I deliberately avoided using the term “dead”. It won’t be dead, but a lot of what it’s used for today is going to be replaced by the ease of microblogging. And the overall amount of communication will increase, but it’s going to happen on these social software tools.

      For email, you note that (1) “you can choose who you want to communicate with”. But if you read the post, you’ll see that’s a feature that is available already. @replies and DMs are directed communications. (2) Forwarding a message is a nice feature, which is what the retweet function offers – although the enterprise offerings don’t have this yet. (3) Note that Yammer lets you go beyond 140 characters. (4) Easy reply…this is actually quite easy in microblogging apps. (5) Easy storage and referencing – microblogging saves your messages unlike IM. Favorites and tags are referencing tools. I would like to see the ability to tag a message for better personal reference. Something like what Gmail offers.

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  11. Adrian says:

    Do you think Schmidt’s actually used Twitter?

  12. redsoxmaniac says:

    I think when it comes to disruptive technology, the twitter message design provides a BETTER function to email because it is essentially a brand+passive mailing list.

    Having both of these things makes it very easy. The utilization of twitter to only give out small messages ( its organization ) also helps too.

    It is usually a manual operation to create mailing lists or premium to have a program set-up on most systems. A lot of these message systems that utilize the email hurt because:

    a) mailing lists sometimes get caught up as spam.

    b) people have multiple accounts. Its a two-way street of work to have someone read your message.

    c) the organization isn’t apparent or set up. How much information is coming from the next mailing list message? Is it important.

    Twitter gives a simple directive ( 140 characters – no more ), sets up a brand, and allows a very simple mailing list feature ( sign up for my twitters! ) which doesn’t require manually adding people.

    Blogs, and other feed-like CMS and mailing functions have the same. But because its branded, everyone is flocking ( pun intended ) to the twitter mainframe instead of Facebook ( which combines feeds and interactions of all sorts ).

    Very good article. I can see that people are trying to have simple message delivery systems. Twitter is a simple mailing list function.

    I have never used it, but I understand its popularity.

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  15. Patricia says:

    No offense, but this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

  16. Brian says:

    Not that simple – there is already a twitter plug in for Outlook – http://www.techhit.com/OutTwit/

    Twitter from Outlook -combine not replace

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  18. Marcel says:

    Whenever something new comes out everyone starts making definitive statements like.

    X is dead
    X is the new king of Y

    People can be successful with whatever they like. It’s all part of the puzzle. There is hardly any right or wrong technology

  19. I don’t believe that twitted or other ‘microblogging’ platforms will have any real effect on email usage. It’s a completely different way of communication, and they don’t really compete with each other. Email is simply a standard used to send messages, while twitter and the like are proprietary communication methods and services with totally different goals. They are more of a one to many method of communication rather than one to one like email is. And I think that is the key difference between them, and the reason that one will not cause the other to go the way of the dinosaurs.

  20. How does microblogging intend to satisfy the archiving and retrievability of messages requirements, such as mandated by sarbanes/oxley? Secondly, does anyone actually get ANY work done anymore?

    • anas says:

      I would have to agree with you mikemcroberts, social media is becoming more of a problem at the work place. When I step into my office, everyone is trying to hide what they have up on their screens and pretend that they are working. We are slowly becoming a world of philosophers and social butterflies, with less time being spent on development, innovations and manufacturing. When the Romans did that, they vanished shortly thereafter.

      • anas – I really want to differentiate between accessing external social media, which does have value in its own right (e.g. IBM and Intel), and using social tools internally. What tools like Yammer, Socialcast, Present.ly, Socialtext Signals and WordPress’s P2 enable is great sharing of relevant information among employees. They’re doing it anyway – email, water cooler, meetings. Internal microblogging expands this communication and channels it for useful purposes.

  21. Matt says:

    You should check out P2, it’s available as a theme here on WordPress.com.

    • Thanks Matt – P2, eh? Yes, this is very much the microblogging format. Definitely something that needs consideration as well. I’ll investigate it. And thanks for stopping by my…uh…your?…blog.

  22. ryanchadwick says:

    You touch on a good point. Is’t not necessarily what the product does but how it does it. Yes you could look at Microblogging and say it’s got similar features to email. But you use them in different ways and that’s where the importance lies.

    • Yeah Ryan, that’s my thought. Microblogging’s roots are different from email’s. Yet they are overlapping on some use cases now. With enterprise microblogging adding more email-like features, we’ll see more overlap in use cases and a generally higher level of communication.

  23. satyask says:

    Very Interesting ideas!

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  25. strider says:

    Very interesting post. However, there is a technology over 30 years old that already does this: it’s called usenet (NNTP). You can post publically or by email at the same time. Google Groups is an example, and there are many existing applications that do this also. A company can have their own NNTP server and create their own internal Usenet groups.

    • Fair enough on the observation that usenet could do what microblogging does today. Do you think services like Twitter are ultimately destined to reach a niche level and that’s it? My sense is a lot of non-technical people are using Twitter, types who never would have use usenet.

      • strider says:

        Thanks for responding. I can’t predict whether Twitter will have a niche level or become the next killer app. However, we have to be clear on what non-technical people use in their daily affairs (something that’s easy) versus something companies would use for their employees (something that is stable, established and secure). Many companies and university campuses have internal usenet. Such usenets can have their own web interfaces, with a login. Beyond that, there is nothing all that “geeky” or “techie” about it.

  26. photohand says:

    It has already been established that there are people who live by their mobile phones and there are people who use computers for everything. If you are in a profession where you are away from your desk a lot or you don’t have a desk, twitter must be very handy. If you work on your computer, you have IM for quick interaction and email for proper exchange of information. Also, in many companies they require compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and employees are supposed to use only the corporate email and IM systems that are being backed-up for audits.

    • I’m not fully conversant in Sarbanes Oxley requirements, but I think the availability of installed microblogging solutions behind the firewall goes a long way toward answering this issue. Archiving, back-up, audit trails…these are part of what email provides. A service like Yammer offers the exact same functionality, no? What is the gap there for SOX?

  27. dokieh says:

    I totally agree with what Tim Young said. Email is dead, completely old fashioned. Internet was a revolution to the modern world, like mobile phones or TV were in their times. Cell phones and the ‘stupid box’ had to reinvent themselves all the time; Internet has to do that too.

    To sum it up, Email is like the Prehistory of Internet.

    See ya.
    Campaign 2.2

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  35. If you stare at the first diagram long enough it appears to be a microblogging Pac-Man eating an email pellet. How appropriate!

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  40. kurye says:

    Microblogging Will Marginalize Corporate Email « I’m Not Actually a Geek great artice thankyou

  41. ارايش says:

    Thanks for good post

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  50. Arjan Tupan says:

    Good post! Having used Yammer heavily myself in a global corporate context, I can say that it was replacing e-mail partially amongst the growing community of Yammer users. Next to that, new opportunities and trust relations emerged, as Yammer served as an international, geographically independent water cooler as well. And as for retrievability, that’s a matter of user guidance. Some documents were stored in a KM system, and on Yammer links were provided. With the search, group and tag functionality of these type of solutions, plus the possibility to create communities that cross company borders, I think that these type of communication facilities will replace e-mail in the long run.

  51. Email is just so uncertain when you are sending/receiving from important contacts. Micro blogging is far more dependable.

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