I’ve been watching a lot of people using computers over the past few months and it struck me how many of them were using web-based email services – the more tech savvy were on Gmail, and the more casual users gravitated towards Hotmail and Yahoo Mail despite their flaws. An even smaller number used webmail interfaces from their own ISP. Like all websites and online services, they all have their own specific demographics of users.
Now most professionals I know use a mail client to read their email – not webmail – sometimes still on a central server, and sometimes downloading it to their own laptops, desktops. But I think that this sort of behaviour is moving further form the norm. Nick Carr has already speculated on cloud computing (which is like a return to mainframes and thin-clients), and web-based email is one of the first mass-conusumer adoptions of this.
In a world where attention time is not expanding (the old ‘only 24 hours in the day’ problem) but attention choices are, it makes perfect sense that casual internet users will migrate their communication needs from a web-based email service to a web-based social networking service. Anecdotally I’d claim that casual web-based email users are probably emailing a small core group of friends regularly and occasionally using their email to apply for jobs and interact with companies, but the majority of their communication is personal and lightweight. Being lightweight the need to archive and search is less important than say for a business email account.
These casual users are already logging in to a website regularly to ‘check their email’ so it is more efficient for them to use login to a social networking website where they can do the same email check and keep track of their friends. In a way this is also a way of filtering communication – email has become so clogged with spam and unwanted communication that social networking services offer a way of filtering the noise – although this is likely only a tangential driver.
Thus we’ve started to see the decline of Hotmail coincide with the rise of Facebook and other services. Whilst it is harder to pull accurate figures out of Yahoo Mail and Google Mail because of the popularity of their www domains, the trends are fascinating. (Remember these are US figures only)
We’ve known for a long time that our e-marketing campaigns need to start looking beyond email – especially for those users who use a web-based email service. Some of us have tried social networking sites, but I wonder how many have analysed their existing email lists and calculated how many email addresses on their current lists are web-based email services, and then correlated that against read and action/conversion rates?