Five Reasons Chat Won’t Replace Email

There’s a new trend of chat-like email apps — every couple of months a new app emerges to bless us with an “all-new approach to email.” Could something finally break email’s hold over us all? It seems only natural. Bring IM and email under the same roof, where they can live happily ever after, sharing contacts and enhancing one another — what could be better, right?

But there’s a catch.

We don’t really want IM to replace email. Here are five reasons why.

1. We want email goodness

Categories, structure, a separate sent folder — they all exist because they’re great tools. If you receive more than 100 emails a day, you’re likely dependent on these tools and others that keep your inbox from turning into an unorganized mess. Chat offers no such structure, rules or labeling to stay sane.

2. We want subject lines

We write the same people on different topics and use subject lines as guideposts for the content of our emails. With chat, all messages are in the same space, with no guideposts. Subject lines are the easiest way to scan messages at a glance, and we don’t get this benefit with chat-like apps.

3. We want the option to not respond

Why would you want a chat-like interface if you aren’t always going to reply? Email is used for notifications, updates, signups and more. In these cases, a conversation view is weird to say the least. And the chat bubbles eat up precious screen space.

4. We want to file things away (especially one-message contacts)

Remember that forum you registered with three months ago to post a couple of witty comments? Well, you may not be able to forget with the conversation-based view where single registration emails (each equaling a thread) will clutter your chat list.

5. We want to leave chat apps separate

But of course! iMessage, WhatsApp, Viber, even recently re-launched mobile ICQ — these apps really do the job. They let you stay in touch and chat with your friends, message your business partners, or let your dad know how you are. And they are getting the job done.

SimilarWeb reports that the “classic” email apps on Android are downloaded as much as ever. Gmail is second in the ranking for communication apps and Yahoo Mail is sixth. myMail is the most downloaded of alternative email apps while the number of installs for Hop, Wave, MailTime and other chat-like email apps don’t even make the ranking.

So — the numbers don’t lie — email is here to stay. What does that mean for us? Chat isn’t going to replace all email any time soon. But, email could be better.

In my next piece, I’m going to explore some ways how this can be done. Stay tuned.