The decline of email

I like the new version of the site stats for WordPress blog authors, especially the geographical stats. I am more international than I realised ! As usual I am a tad behind Telescoper. Apparently he reaches about a hundred countries and I reach about fifty. Meanwhile in Twitterland I have 759 followers. Gulp. Who are all these people ? And a steady stream of people are joining Facebook and want to be my fwiend. Everybody is speaking to everybody else ! Its ballooning out of control ! But … I seem to get significantly less email than I used to …

Is this a well known thing, or just me ? And is it connected with the rise of Blogs Twitter and Facebleuuchhh ? Like most scientists, I started using email in the early 80s. At first it was mostly inside my own institution (RGO at that time). Then there was growing chatter between Starlink nodes. Next, thanks to Decnet and SPAN, it started being possible to send emails to Oz and Yankland and so on. That was magic. Then TCP/IP and SMTP took over, every scientist had an email address of the same form, and the world really became transparent.

The next bit wasn’t so groovy. Microsoft made email so easy (Outlook was one of their best products) that  it was discovered by our University administrators. Suddenly they could pester you and demand stuff thirty times a day. Then your auntie and all your cousins found out about email (Outlook Express…). Clearly, email was going exponential, and it was getting to be a serious problem. I noticed that senior people learned to write three sentence emails, whereas postdocs and administrators sent you six screenfuls of stuff.

But now the tide seems to be going out. Natural feedback cycle ? Everybody going bonkers on Twitter instead ? Or have I just become less popular ?

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13 Responses to The decline of email

  1. Kawawa Chitiya says:

    Social media really is replacing email and a lot of other things too (everybody is trying to advertise on facebook) at a rate faster than we would like to agree. A few decades ago, saying hello to a colleague or friend meant seating down and planning what to say. When e-mail came (and outlook) we would send out short e-mails (and that’s when we started losing the culture of pleasantries). THEN came social media, and a friend can say something as simple as “hey” and you “hey” them back, and the conversation is either complete or it leads to “what’s new?” etc…

  2. telescoper says:

    The usefulness of email has been ruined by the rising population of spammers and scammers (and admin types). Most of my work email is now junk and the spam filters seem powerless to stop a lot of it. And I don’t even have an admin filter….

    I’m sad to say this will soon happen to Twitter too. The “promoted tweet” is nothing but spam, and I’m sure it won’t be long before everyone’s timeline is full of garbage. Even more so than now, I mean.

  3. andyxl says:

    I am actually surprised that Twitter doesn’t have more spam already. It has been slowly growing since I joined but its still a small fraction of what I see. There is an extra danger with Twitter… Everybody sensible knows that if you don’t recognise an email, you don’t download the attachment – but the open nature of Twitter means its quite normal to see things you don’t expect – so do you click that link to see what it is ?

  4. astropixie says:

    maybe my work spam filter is very good (?), because i dont get spam to that account. i havent noticed a drop in my email communication recently either, but a difference might be that i’ve been increasing my number of (international) collaborations over the last couple years and email is what we’ve got…

    most of my professional collaborators do not use twitter, and when one of them refers to something i’ve posted on my blog or twitter, it always surprises me!

  5. andyxl says:

    Collaborator emails go through bursts I find, so its quite hard taking an average.

  6. Tony says:

    I doubt fb has replaced anything we did before but certainly twitter has led me to drop most email list memberships. I can’t think of anything that would have replaced the work emails I’d received in the past, though.

  7. John Peacock says:

    Ah, nostalgia. In the early days of email, the various networks would be patched together. I forget the exact syntax, except that % functioned as glue. So on decnet (the internal starlink network), you might get email from Andy Lawrence showing as from RGVAD::AXL, but a decnet user might get email via bitnet in the us as something vaguely like But to send a message in reply, the various parts of the address had to be permuted is a messy way, and only a few gurus could figure out how to make it work. Then one day an Edinburgh secretary who didn’t realise this was supposed to be a test of your intellectual stamina just hit “reply” in the VAX mail tool, and it worked!

    As for declining amounts, I wish this was true. I get about 40,000 non-spam emails per year. How did we let ourselves get in this mess?

  8. While I was at Jodrell Bank, I was the de-facto supervisor of the master’s thesis of a student in Hamburg. Even though he did come to Jodrell Bank and we met when I commuted regularly back to Germany, the corresponding mail folder has about 4000 messages in it.

    I run my own SMTP server and have found that the spamhaus RBL coupled with rejecting emails to non-existent users gets rid of almost all of the spam. I get about 40 messages a day of which perhaps 5 are spam. Incoming SMTP connections are at a rate of one every few seconds. Most of these are probably from Windows PCs which have been infected by a virus, turning them into spam-injection machines for botnets (usually unknown to the owners).

    The spam block (i.e. munged email address) is no longer necessary, though I keep one on usenet out of tradition. Usenet is about the same size as, or even bigger than, it was 20 years ago, but is relatively much smaller as a source of email addresses. I doubt any spammers harvest email addresses there anymore, both because there are few new ones and because anyone intelligent enough to use usenet won’t respond to spam in the sense the spammer intended. Most email addresses are harvested by viruses on Windows PCs which collect email addresses from the local address book and/or from emails stored on the disk.

    (If one does munge the email address, munge the part after the “@” (and make sure this doesn’t result in a valid address). Someone will be stupid enough to send to it, and if the username part is munged this puts a load on the systems handling email for that domain. Also, many spammers remove automatically strings like “spam” or “no spam” or any string mentioned in a “remove XXX to reply” as part of the username (which is why I changed mine a few years ago). This has become so automated that at least one person has a real email address like; the spammers convert this to which is invalid.)

  9. Clive Page says:

    Personally I don’t find that the volume of email had diminished at all. I get just as many work-related ones and from friends and family, and more than ever from companies whose services I have used, since pretty much every time you buy something over the interweb you have to provide your email address for confirmation, and from then on (until you work out how to unsubscribe) you get their weekly offers in your inbox.

    I assume, however, that its share of total messaging has declined, since there are now so many ways of sending messages, e.g. email, SMS, Blackberry IM, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and no doubt others that I’ve forgotten or am not even aware of. Most of these are pretty much island universes, which rather takes us back to the days when different email systems could not inter-communicate. This seems a pity.

    My experience is different from Phillip in that I find that Usenet addresses are still harvested. I just checked what had arrived in my spam folder for the last 10 days and 3 of them had come to the address that I have used for the last year or so on Usenet and for no other purpose. Maybe it isn’t necessary to mung email addresses on web pages any more, but it doesn’t seem to do much harm.

    • Still writing Fortran, Clive? I definitely am. IIRC I once collected some VT320 terminals from you. Still in use.

      While some of the Web2.0 stuff might have its uses, I don’t like communicating through them. I much prefer to have everything via email, and have a common interface (VMS MAIL) to deal with it. For the same reasons, I think usenet posts are superior to blog comments. :-|

      If you saw the stuff in your spam folder, then presumably the address is a valid one. Thus, someone might have sent you a message to that address, and thus it is stored somewhere on the sender’s computer. A virus can harvest that. In other words, getting spam to this address doesn’t imply that it was harvested from usenet (though it was indirectly, of course).

  10. Whats up this is kind of of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

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