Despite this week’s quasi-competitive shift, Slack won’t replace email - here’s why

May 9, 2019


Slack announced this week that it is adding email conversations and calendar integration functions to its app, including the option for non-Slack users to receive messages via email. Is this a game changer for the soon-to IPO giant-slayer in its mission? Definitely not, this is more akin to an admission of partial defeat.

Contrary to reports, Slack is essentially bending the knee to email, this move solidifies the fact that email is the king of business communications, and won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

Cast your minds back to 2015 when Slack burst onto the scene. It was billed as a ruthless “email killer”, set to change the future of work. But in 2019 we all continue to regularly send and receive emails: the volume of emails being sent is growing, not shrinking.

As of 2019 an estimated 188 million emails are sent every minute - a recent Radicati Group study reported more than 3.8 billion email users in 2019, which is more than half the population of the planet and over 100 million more than the previous year. Many naysayers proverbially sent email to the internet scrapheap years ago, so this is exciting stuff for an age-old function.

This year, it’s expected that this will again grow to 3.9 billion email users worldwide - in contrast, Slack has 10 million daily users, as of January 2019. Even though Slack’s user-base is likely growing at a rapid rate, this still feels somewhat microscopic in comparison, and definitely not email ‘killing’ just yet.

So, why is email still around? Is it not a legacy product ripe for challenge or replacement? In the post-Cambridge Analytica age where users value transparency, email is built on open, federated protocols, meaning that anyone can set up a server and store their data wherever they like. This sounds technical, but this has enormous ramifications for the average user. Email doesn’t operate in silos - I can email your outlook address from my gmail, and vice-versa, whereas I can’t send a message to your WhatsApp account from my Messenger account.

Imagine then if we could use email to instead create a secure, federated, permission-less chat application, by extending email protocols to include popular functions from Whatsapp and Slack (e.g. read receipts and workspaces). This is the future, and this isn’t what Slack has done here. Albeit, Slack is trying to de-silo itself, which I commend - but this is only a partial step in the right direction.

This future of business communication goes beyond this update - real-time chat applications must have privacy and total interoperability at their core. Not just convenience, or selective operability (i.e. non-Slack users getting Slack messages via email). With this update, Slack is still sitting in a silo that I, the average user, cannot use how I see fit. Importantly, Email doesn’t sit in a silo, and this is why it continues to be relevant and popular.

Despite the numerous high profile data scandals plaguing the big tech players, email remains one of the most secure and trusted means of communication. In fact, email is in the midst of a renaissance - Slack shouldn’t bother trying to end this.


About the author

Rafael Laguna

Rafael Laguna

Co-founder and former CEO of Open-Xchange


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