The Real Paul Jones

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Social Network use rises from 11 – 65%; Email drops to 92% (#noemail)

The Rise of Social Network Use

The Rise of Social Network Use

If trends mean anything, the analysis by the pollsters at Pew miss the point of their own data. Whilst the title for the report is “Search and email still top the list of most popular online activities”, the use of email has remained flat — dropping 1% really, but statistically insignificant — since 2002. Searching rose from 85% to join email at 92% (since 2002). But social network use, which was not even measured until 2005, begins at 11% and is up to 65% by 2011’s survey.

Email fans shouldn’t get all that excited by the report as the data underlying the report show communications trends that will move us all from email even in the immediate term. Note also that email alternatives were not measured giving some confusion to the frequencies of communications.

One critique of #noemail is that any messaging system is really email. Of course, I don’t buy that. But that does show that messaging of all kinds is conflated with email and could be here as the alternatives are offered. This becomes clearer when we look at the racial differences in email use by adults. “White online adults are significantly more likely than both African-American and Hispanic online adults to be email users on a typical day (63% v. 48% v. 53%, respectively). “ Another Pew study released in June showed that Twitter use by Whites, African Americans and Hispanic adults is the reverse of the email patern (9% v. 25% v. 19% respectively).


  1. Paul – do you know to what precision these numbers are reported at? Clicking through the links, it looks like one of these surveys was n=2277 – a plausibly large sample to gauge trends, but not big enough that I’d look at a 1% change as anything other than statistical noise.

    The other set of numbers that would confound this analysis is the total number of Internet users; that is, has the underlying population grown since 2002, or are we at a level of saturation where there are no net additional users of the network?

  2. Paul

    8/10/2011 at 2:05 pm

    Ed, I agree. I thought I had said that the email change was “statistically insignificant” but somehow didn’t til now. Thanks for having me reread the entry more closely. The underlying numbers are all available at the Pew link; the Pew folks are great about that kind of thing, Obviously Internet users have increased in the pool (and are different individuals from the earlier polls). Pew is also very good at making their methodology transparent.

  3. Hey Paul, you mentioned that the Pew research shows “communications trends that will move us all from email even in the immediate term.” Can you give some examples that, in your opinion, will move us all from email in the immediate term? I made a bet in 2005 that consumers would move quickly from email to RSS as operating systems and email clients were all adding RSS capability and publishers were beginning to support RSS very quickly. RSS gained popularity but email didn’t drop at all. With the reliance of social media on email (those bacon emails you get every time something happens in your social worlds, by default) to pull you back into social sites, it seems that email usage is likely to grow with increased social usage. Twitter sends you your direct messages via email. Facebook and LinkedIn email you immediately or in digests based on your preferences. Or, are you classifying social media alerts via email as social media messages (not email because they didn’t originate from email)? Would love to hear your thoughts on what will replace email in the immediate term, or if you’re just defining email differently now?

  4. Paul

    8/11/2011 at 1:33 pm

    First, turn off email alerts. It’s easy and your life will thank you. Why why why would you want email about a Twitter mention? Every Twitter client can alert your phone if you need rapid response in your life.

    I recommend several steps and alternatives in an earlier article here; Getting Started With #noemail as well as in interviews. Yes one option that I myself use is making RSS feeds from various mailing lists that I can’t avoid. Since the article I’ve also suggested and started using Facebook’s unified Messenger and Inbox which is not email but an integration of communications streams completely synched with my phone. And of course Google Plus.

    I repeat myself myself: The replacements for email will be more social, more mobile, more video, and more integrated. Google Plus and Facebook Messenger point the way in our more open lives, whilst products like Yammer, Lotus Connect, GetSatisfaction and others point toward business solutions.

  5. “One critique of #noemail is that any messaging system is really email. Of course, I donít buy that.”

    Why? Other than visibility how is a series of posts on Facebook or a series of tweets on Twitter different than emails in an inbox?

  6. Paul

    12/6/2011 at 2:34 pm

    Every communication study shows that not only the technical differences in messaging, but also the social construction and personal use of a messaging system creates something different in the way the communication is conceived, composed and received. This is pretty basic and obvious stuff — except to engineers (usually). Just changing the background of a page can make a difference — as Metafilter members can testify.

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