Within the last decade or so, we have seen increased usage of instant message applications, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. Which, in many cases, have taken over for email, where before we had tools such as Skype, Google Talk, and others that were complementary to email. All these tools have benefits, yet I prefer email over all of them. In this post, I will elaborate on why this is the case. Before I continue, I find all the above tools use fool and good products.
First, Instant Message (IM), one of my biggest problems with IM solutions in my daily life is the IM part. Many tasks require me to dive deep into a system and dig my way back out when the walls have closed behind me. In these situations, distractions are not appreciated but enter IM. People write to me often, and I get notifications on my phone and work PC. This is an issue for me because it takes focus, and I have to quickly determine if I should react to the message or ignore it until I finish my task. More often than not, it falls in the last category. However, the brief context switch means I must backtrack a little to find out where I came from. If, instead, I need to act on the message. I will need to note how far and from where I came. Then do a complete context switch and come back later. Some say both cases are easy, but I do not find so. In addition, if I find a message less essential and do not respond, I sometimes will get follow-up messages such as “Did you see my message?” or “Why have you not responded yet”. The I part of IM is really invasive sometimes, and others and my judgement of what is essential are rarely the same. I want to note that I am guilty of sending the same follow-up messages. People seem to think that it is okay for it to take a while before you get a reply by email, and also, people think more about the response (high-quality text), which I like. Finally, at this point, many people say, “just disable notifications”. Well, I agree, but people do not expect an immediate response to an IM (for some reason)
I touched briefly on the quality of the message above. IM responses often need to be more concise and of a high enough detail granularity, and you will have to ask follow-up questions (here, I am also guilty). However, when you get an email reply, it is often well-formulated. It goes into detail where needed. Of course, sometimes details slip, or the quality reply could be better. But more often than not, I get and give better responses by email.
Next, the ability to delete messages is not a feature. It is a liability. So why do I say this? It has been a massive problem at my past employment of mine. Agreements would be made, then later deleted. It reached a point where others and I started screen-shooting conversations to have proof of an agreement because some found it a good idea to delete their messages. It led to some nasty confrontations. Furthermore, and in the same ballpark. Sometimes I want a backup of messages, which is fairly easy with email. But none of the IM tools that I know properly support this.
Then there is the whole issue of lock-in. Moving from Teams to Slack or the other way is nearly impossible. But with email, I can switch email clients, host providers, and domain providers. I can even self-host should I want it. You name it. It can be done. That is a feature I really love with email.
In extension to lock-in, there is always availability. As a consultant, some I interact with have Teams, some have Slack, some use Zulip, and others use something else. There is no good solution where I can access everything from a centralised place. Also, having Slack and Teams running simultaneously drains a battery fast (stupid Electron). With email, I can have my account at different companies readily available in one email client. Easy accessible with an excellent overview of messages and so on. Thanks to Apple Mail, Gnome Evolution, and Thunderbird for being awesome.
Then finally and one thing that is really big for me! Threads! EMAIL THREADS: Have you tried that and compared it to how any of the other tools do it? Email for life. You have a subject. You can reply all, reply one, reply some. You can even change the subject. OH, MY GODS, it is incredible! It works a million times better than Slack, teams, and Zulip combined! If we extend this to how hey.com works, email has no competitor.
There are a few other things like most email clients have better searches than their IM counterparts. But we will see a massive improvement in this, particularly in Slack, over the coming years.
So these are my reason for loving email.