Email behaviour – can it be changed?

Email is old. Technically the first message to be sent electronically was back in 1971, by some guy called Ray Tomlinson, who sent an email to himself. Sure, email has evolved over the years. But at its core, email is a still messaging platform.

The way people use email hasn’t changed since we began using it. We’re using email as a 1:1 communication between ourselves and friends, family, businesses, complete strangers, cats, dogs – everyone. Businesses have tapped into our heavy use and reliance on email by sending us marketing messages through email. And we either react to them or not, by opening, reading, replying or simply deleting.

And yet here we are in the industry attempting to change the way email is used by the wider audience. Creating interactive micro-sites within email. Using email as an actual shopping basket and check out system. These sorts of emails are fundamentally changing the way end users need to view email as a whole. Email is elevated from the mere messaging platform it’s been all this time. This isn’t the email we’re used to.

But is this something we can change by simply supplying the user/consumer/customer with an alternative message that’s more than just a message?

How do we/can we/should we change that behaviour?

Inbox by Gmail is trying to open up the inbox, so to speak, by sneaking in your reminders into the inbox as well as your email. Gmail’s own Actions is another step being taken to change the way email is acted on giving users one-click actions, whether it’s to confirm a subscription to a newsletter, send an RSVP or view a forum discussion.

Gmail’s actions are still innately email actions – Gmail has simply made it easier to get to them via their interface. Arguably Inbox by Gmail is trying to revamp human behaviour with email. Not sure how well they’re doing with that there. Even I gave up on trying to use Inbox.

And yet all other email clients are content to let email just be. Be what it has always been. There must be a reason for that.

Email is wonderful. We use email much the same as we always have. However we’re trying to change the way people use email through the content that we’re supplying them. More power to us for trying. It’s what web developers did when they pushed the boundaries of the purpose and use of websites and the web is flourishing with some fantastical websites. But I tend to think that’s an easier arena to change human interaction with.

Like I said at the beginning. Email is old. But the way we use it hasn’t changed. You could say our interaction with email is almost an ingrained human behaviour. And humans can be stubborn SOBs who won’t change a damn thing.

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