Yesterday I pointed at an article which argued that email is not the problem, it's the people that use it who are broken. I publicized this with the heading Saying that email is broken is as dumb as blaming your obesity on food, and it caused quite a discussion.
The social media addicts (been there, done that) could not accept that email has a place to play in a communications strategy, insisting that it was, essentially, "evil". I was amused rather than annoyed by this anthropomorphism of technology, and not at all surprised that the biased sample discussing this issue on social media could not produce any evidence beyond anecdote (Well it works for me), of the effectiveness of social media. The reason spammers use email is not because because it doesn't work. That does not mean email is "evil", any more than road accidents mean that cars are "evil". It means that humans are imperfect.
I'm just coming off a multi-year experiment where we forced students (through assessment) to communicate via social media. (This grew out of the Small Worlds experiment.) This year, we stopped forcing them and gave them a choice. And they stopped using social media to communicate with us (#DarkSocial - The Results Are In). Since I focused on email as my main (non-assessed) communication tool for students (and colleagues), the number of comments and questions I receive is up more than 10 fold, and it's a lot easier for me to manage than obsessively checking social networks for fleeting content. Student feedback says they feel the same way and the data supports that. Interestingly, this academic year we are seeing a big upsurge in email from mobiles (Sent from my Blackberry/iPhone, etc, and even without the sig, the terse nature of thumb typing is easy to spot).
The strength of email is that users "own" the content, both intellectually and physically, in a way that is not true of content posted to facebook or Google+. One trick I have learned is to use Blogger as an easy multimedia authoring tool so that I can quickly produce attractive multimedia emails with a reusable archive which will come into its own in terms of reuse in future years. Email still has to compete for user attention in the clamour of the online space. As I said, using email badly doesn't prove that email is bad. But DarkSocial is not simply email or nothing. It's about recognizing that we cannot force others to do what we want them to do if they want to do something else. All the evidence shows this clearly.
I wasn't surprised at the vehemence of the blinkered response from some of the contributors to the discussion. As far as many people are concerned, it's full steam ahead and damn the icebergs. It was useful to remind myself of these emotions though, and to think again of how I tackle a number of speaking engagements over the next few weeks where I have essentially been booked to big up social media in education. When I've figured out how I'm going to do that, you'll read about it here :-)