TechCrunch reports on a recent ComScore report highlighting changes in webmail usage:
In introducing his messaging platform last November Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said one of the primary motivations behind Messages product strategy was that teenagers have given up on email, “High school kids don’t use email, they use SMS a lot. People want lighter weight things like SMS and IM to message each other.”
A comScore report on 2010 digital trends reinforces at least part of Zuckerberg’s claim. It’s inevitable: Innovative social messaging platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well mobile communications continue to dominate our online time, and web email begins its steady decline. Total web email usage was down 8% in the past year (YOY), with a whopping 59% decline in use among people between the ages of 12-17. Cue Matt Drudge -style alarm.
Usage was also down 1% among 18-24 year olds, 18% among 25-35 year olds, 8% among 35-44 year olds and 12% among the 45-54 demographic. Because oldsters are continuing to migrate online in droves, web email use actually saw an uptick in the AARP-eligible sector, with 22% gains among 55-64 year olds and 28% among those 65 and older. Obviously this was not enough to offset the decline in youth usage.
Though the numbers don’t lie, “webmail is dying” is entirely the wrong way to look at it. My dissertation research found similar figures in terms of the pre-eminence of social communications methods: cell phones and texting are the center of young peoples’ (in that case, college students’) social universe, with Facebook messages more popular than email for social communications. Contra Zuck, IM is not used as frequently or centrally in their social communications, and it’s my hunch that for the most part it’s getting pushed out by texting.
But all of this changes in a professional context. Young people still use email for communicating with their parents and, in the context of college, want to only use email (and face-to-face meetings) to communicate with their professors: no cell, texting, IM, Facebook messages. Definitely not. This divide was further explicated in interviews where students described that email was for professors, internships (and bosses there), and campus organizations – mailing lists and the like.
What’s clear is that while webmail and email are, among younger cohorts, losing their social centrality, they are not going away at all. Rather, email is becoming increasingly professionally branded. Old people (e.g., me) still use it (albeit at slightly decreasing rates) for social communications, and the ComScore report shows that the oldest cohorts are actually using it increasingly for those communications. But email has become the central tool for business communications, and as young people enter a workforce that is actually increasingly adopting webmail for professional purposes – notice the flat number among 18-24s and smaller decreases above that – email usage will endure. It just might get left at the office.