Social networking encourages intimacy that is only possible with frequent, effortless communication. And, "on a social network, you don't send e-mail to an address, you send it to a person, just click on their name and create a message. That's a very different experience conceptually and emotionally from e-mail." (CNN Money)
Younger users are the predominant social networkers, but older users are catching up. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook, for example, is those 25 years and older. (Facebook) And those 40+, can join a social network dedicated to their age group if Facebook isn't their cup of tea. Some examples include:
- Gather.com, described as "a scholarly MySpace with less hook-ups and more intellectual stimulation."
- TeeBeeDee, "the place for people over 40 who believe that life is still to be determined."
But don't count out email just yet. GigaOm suggests that email could be the "ultimate social environment," less a social network and more a "relationship and interaction manager that aggregates various social web services - that doesn't require rewiring our brains and changing our behavior." He points to two examples of beta email services, "Xobni," which scans your Microsoft Outlook email database and "quickly establishes relationships among the people you email, and ranks them according to frequencies and relevance." (Xobni spells "inbox" backwards.)
The bottom line? Email isn't going anywhere in the foreseeable future, not with the emergence of social features, and particularly with it's stranglehold on business communications. Email also provides a boundary between users' personal and professional lives, a line that no one seems eager to cross just yet.
And the cause of social networks isn't helped by their image of being, well, social. A growing number of businesses are restricting access to social networks because of their perceived negative impact on productivity. Of course, the time we spend managing our email every day is lost produtivity, but unlike social networks, email isn't much fun so I guess that makes it a more acceptable way to waste time.