Analyst: Email will lose ground to social networks

Gartner recently published a list of five new predictions about “social software” that show mix of optimism and pessimism about whether these tools will be embraced by businesses.

The most grandiose prediction is the first — that by 2014, social networking services will replace email as the primary communication tool for 20 percent of business users. Companies will either build out their own corporate social networks, or they will allow greater use of existing networks for work, Gartner says. Over time, a sizable minority users will rely less on email and more on social tools, especially for status updates and tracking down a coworker with the right expertise.

Now, even if that 20 percent prediction comes true, there will still be many more people using email. Nonetheless, Gartner suggests that social networking sites will cause a major shift in the way businesses communicate. Last May, Gartner analyst Matt Maoz expressed similar ideas more forcefully in a blog post titled, “Email is dead, taken out by Twitter, chat and communities,” though though the statement sounds less over-the-top when you look beyond the headline, see he was focused mostly on customer service.

“The combination of chat, advanced self service and knowledge cases, together with community case / problem identification and resolution … and now Twitter, mean that email as a way of customers contacting us for support will begin a slow slide,” Maoz wrote. “That isn’t to say it will disappear, but it will take on a Zombie state of the undead.”

In the new predictions, research Gartner also argues that the distinction between email and social networks is disappearing, with social networks adding email-like capabilities while email adds social data. Perhaps, mutation and evolution, rather than zombification, might make for a more a more accurate metaphor of what’s to come, where eventually social networking and email become one and the same.

Given the above predictions, you might think Gartner would be optimistic about microblogging, and sure, it says that by 2012, 50 percent of enterprises will be using activity streams with a microblogging components — basically, team members will be sharing status updates. However, most of those companies won’t be using microblogging-focused tools such as Yammer (which just raised another $10 million), and enterprise microblogging services will only see 5 percent market penetration, Gartner says.

Why the disconnect? Twitter took off because of its scale, the firm says. In other words, when you’ve got millions of users, there will be probably be a number of folks tweeting things you find interesting. That dynamic doesn’t carry over when the entire user base exists within one company.

And here’s the full list of predictions:

  • By 2014, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users.
  • By 2012, over 50 percent of enterprises will use activity streams that include microblogging, but stand-alone enterprise microblogging will have less than 5 percent penetration.
  • Through 2012, over 70 percent of IT-dominated social media initiatives will fail.
  • Within five years, 70 percent of collaboration and communications applications designed on PCs will be modeled after user experience lessons from smartphone collaboration applications.
  • Through 2015, only 25 percent of enterprises will routinely utilize social network analysis to improve performance and productivity.

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