It’s the E-mail Economy, Stupid!

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By: Steve Outing

Yes, that is kind of a rude headline. Sorry, but sometimes I feel like SCREAMING (in ALL CAPS, to make my point) that publishers plying the uncharted world of interactive publishing are overlooking the obvious. E-mail represents an incredible, inexpensive opportunity for publishers. But for many of the news Web publishers I speak with, e-mail publishing is given a low priority.

My gut feeling that e-mail is about to explode in popularity — even as it is already considered by many to be the Internet’s “killer app” — is bolstered by a recently released report from Forrester Research of Cambridge, Massachusetts, exploring the future of e-mail. Says the report, “E-mail will be the first communication technology to rival the telephone as its emerging ubiquity gives people an inexpensive way to communicate.”

This is going to be big

Some key findings of the report include:

* E-mail will reach a majority of U.S. consumers by 2001. In 1992, only 2% of the U.S. population had e-mail access; today, 40 million people, or 15% of the population, use e-mail; by 2001, 135 million people, or just over 50% of the population, will be e-mail users. This growth will be fueled by increasing PC penetration to the home, and corporations expanding internal access to the Internet to all or most employees. (The report doesn’t include estimates for other countries.)

* By 2000, some 500 million messages will be sent every day; by 2005, it will rise to 5 billion a day. These will include letters and photos from family and friends; bills; customized news; catalogs; and targeted advertisements. But the consumer of the 21st century won’t just read a bill, they’ll be able to pay it by clicking a button on the e-mail bill, Forrester says.

* E-mail is poised to be transformed from boring text-only to multimedia messages. “New e-mail will put today’s plain messages to shame,” the researchers write. An indication of this direction already is in place, with Netscape’s Inbox Direct program, which allows the sending of multimedia HTML documents as e-mail. (The current limitation is that most e-mail client applications can’t render HTML pages.) Today, less than 1% of e-mail messages include graphics or attachments; by 2001, that number will climb to about 25%.

* The e-mail box of the future will be intelligent, employing sophisticated filters to sort incoming information streams and deal with some messages automatically. We’ll manage an increasing flood of e-mailed information by having a “public portal for marketers and a private entryway for friends and family,” say the Forrester researchers.

* As consumers tire of searching the Web, they will receive more information — or, to use the popular buzzword of 1997, have it “pushed” to them — via e-mail. Within five years, Forrester predicts, the average consumer will receive three to five messages a day from free news and information services.

Kate Delhagen, chief researcher on the e-mail project and new media analyst for Forrester, says that new opportunities are opening up because of the evolution of e-mail. Particularly as multimedia e-mail becomes more prevalent, consumers will find e-mail more compelling.

America Online is expected to support multimedia e-mail in its next revision, probably sometime this year. And Microsoft will support HTML mail in its next release of the Internet Explorer Web browser — as does Netscape’s browser already. Meanwhile, developers of e-mail-specific client software, such as Eudora by Qualcomm, are working on supporting multimedia mail. By the end of this year, then, sending multimedia e-mail is likely to be quite common, since the person on the receiving end of your message is likely to be able to easily view messages containing images and sound.

Obviously, this trend is going to have a profound effect on Internet publishing. A publisher effectively using e-mail has the potential to reach far more people than via a Web site, Delhagen points out, and e-mail can be used to drive traffic to a Web site by means of live hyperlinks within an e-mailed message which tease readers to content housed at the site.

What’s next?

Delhagen expects several key e-mail trends to emerge in the next few years:

* Lifetime e-mail addresses will become the norm. These will allow a consumer to use a permanent address, which can be carried with the individual from job to job, or through changes in Internet service providers. An example of this is a “vanity plate” address — say, jane.smith@harvard.edu — that provides message forwarding to Jane Smith’s e-mail address, no matter how often she changes ISPs.

* Instant message capability — already a feature within the AOL proprietary system — will come to the larger Internet, enabling you to send an instant message to a friend after determining that he is currently online.

* Directories of e-mail addresses will grow slowly. The report projects that by 1999, only 20% of e-mail users will maintain up-to-date listings on the leading directories; today, that figure is about 3%.

* Spamming, or “junk e-mail,” will be regulated, which combined with more sophisticated filtering technology applied by the consumer will cause the problem to diminish.

What does all this mean to you as a publisher? The key point is that your focus must widen. Says the Forrester report, “Today’s fixation with the Web will give way to a blended mix of Web site and messaging development.”

Forrester predicts a wide application of uses for e-mail. By 1998, say the researchers, people will pay bills, update insurance policies, make dinner reservations, fill prescriptions, and receive their kids’ grade reports with electronic messages. After the turn of the century, we’ll be registering to vote and maybe even voting by e-mail; being audited by the IRS; buying stock; even sending digital photos of a strange rash on your arm to your dermatologist instead of driving to his office.

The wares of publishers also will be thrown into this futuristic mix of e-mail delivered to the consumer. Indeed, if Forrester’s scenario turns out to be accurate — and I have every confidence that it will — then it’s imperative for publishers to begin implementing e-mail delivery of content soon. When the wired consumer of a few years from now sits down before the PC (and Forrester predicts that future e-mail will remain tied to PCs rather than alternative devices like screen phones), she’ll have little or no time left after going through her e-mail inbox to surf the Web.

And as Delhagen points out, there’s little reason not to devote some of your time and resources to e-mail publishing endeavors. E-mail remains one of the most inexpensive means of publishing. Now that e-mail is “growing up,” it also will become one of the most effective tools in the electronic publishing arsenal.

Contact: Kate Delhagen, kdelhagen@forrester.com

CitySearch goes Down Under

Online city guide company CitySearch of Pasadena, California, has entered a relationship with John Fairfax Holdings of Australia, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne, to offer online services in those two cities. CitySearch also will work with BIG Color Pages, an online directory company serving local businesses in Australia. The Sydney and Melbourne online city guide services are expected to be launched in late summer.

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company

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