I Want SMS to be the New Email

Twitter is addictive for a lot of reasons.

  • You can do it from your cell phone.
  • You’re required to be brief (140 characters max).
  • You can stay aware of what’s going on in lots of peoples’ lives with very little time investment.
  • You can customize your experience by using 3rd party apps that meet your quirky specific needs.

Email, on the other hand, isn’t impressing me so much these days. Why? Because its etiquette is outdated. The following behaviors are still considered rude in the land of email:

  • Not responding
  • Taking more than 24 hours to respond
  • Expecting an immediate response
  • Not responding to every point in an email
  • Responding to a long email with a very brief email
  • Not including friendly small talk at the beginning and end of a message

Email is still trying to be a cross between phone calls and handwritten letters, and we don’t need that anymore. We need to replace Email Culture with a new set of tools and etiquette that helps us convey information and strengthen relationships in less time.

Twitter is showing us how it’s done, other social networking websites aren’t far behind, and SMS text messaging has exploded like a pack of Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke. We’re craving lightweight communication and embracing it however we can. But there’s one lingering problem: Email is still our default form of communication. I might favor Twitter above all else, but I can only use Twitter to talk to other Twitter users. Email, on the other hand, is still the center of everyone’s universe.

So that’s why I’m calling you out, Email. It’s time to change.

  • We want email clients that visually cue us to write shorter messages.
  • We want really short emails to show up our cell phones as text messages.
  • We want threaded message views that take Gmail’s interface a step further and look like iChat.
  • We want the same freedom and flexibility that we’ve always had with email, but with tools that reward us for being brief.
  • We want long messages to be special again.
  • We want guilt-free communication.
  • We want to be able to respond to more quickly, and therefore, to respond more.

What’s it gonna take to make this happen?

Tags: , ,

If you like this post and would like to receive updates from this blog, please subscribe to the feed. Subscribe via RSS

7 Responses to “I Want SMS to be the New Email”

  1. tiffany Says:

    “We want really short emails to show up our cell phones as text messages.”

    I personally don’t :-), although I could see how that would be a cool option.

    I see what you’re saying. But I think SMS has its issues too. If you don’t have a full keyboard, input is a pain in the butt. Small screens become kind of annoying after awhile.

    Then there’s the immediacy / distraction element. SMS can be intrusive in a way that e-mail generally isn’t (unless you have a Blackberry) and that Twitter has the option not to be (you can turn Twitter SMS off).

    <tangent>I keep thinking about user experience, context, and SMS after receiving a 6am text / friend request from BrightKite</tangent>

    I agree, however, we all need to be much more efficient with our communications.

  2. Nate Nead Says:

    Efficient communications are the name of the game. I really think it will move in the direction your speaking someday. I’m also curious if you’re interested in doing a link exchange for SEO reasons. My google rank is 3/10 and my alexa rank is 500,000. Let me know if you’re interested.

  3. sarah Says:

    Tiffany — I totally agree… we need tools for uber-customization so we can control our own information flow. SMS doesn’t have it all together, either. And I do realize I’m spoiled by walking around with a QWERTY keyboard in my pocket.

    Nate — I appreciate the sincere response, but I don’t appreciate you following it up with a link exchange request. That goes under the category of “spam” in my book. I can tell by this comment that you’re a real person, so KNOCK IT OFF, okay?

  4. Jeremiah Says:

    Good day and many thanks to you, dearest Sarah of the Western shore, with whom I will have the honor and privilege of conversing throughout the duration of this text, which is to say the words following this comma here,
    Ur Ru1n1nG Wr1t1nG
    With most sincere thanks and many blessings from this, the Eastern shore northward of the Massachusetts Commonwealth, in health and prosperity and with the utmost respect for the discourse of written language,

  5. Jeremiah Says:

    I also sincerely regret my misuse of the letter “t” in the body of our last correspondence, which should be a “7”.

  6. sarah Says:


    I bite my thumb at you…


  7. Marie Says:

    I don’t have any answers, but I love that you took a great stab at defining both appeal + limitations. I’ve tried explaining Twitter to RL friends, and it doesn’t make sense to them.

    I’ve found that with those (long-distance) friends that I have multiple connections with, I use twitter for every day hellos, facebook or other for playful interaction (poking, playing games, etc), blogs for general information, and email for longer, more involved conversations. For local friends, I have to add the occasional lunch or event to keep it a high-quality connection. The phone is only rarely used any more; it’s almost all face to face or virtual. Email now fills the previous role of long letters for me, but I often ignore most of the eti points you mention! Oh well.

    But if I were getting my email by phone, I dunno. I wouldn’t want to be *that* accessible or have one more distraction. Younger users may differ. I like the idea of cueing for shorter messages, though, which is one thing I like about twitter The congress.org site has an instant feedback tool like that on its letter-writing page, explaining that letters under a certain word count are more effective. When you get over a certain word count, the green bar starts going yellow, orange and red. Now that I can get into.