SMTP is dead, long live SMTP

Several weeks ago my friend Tom Evslin sent me an email with the headline SMTP Is Dead. Since Tom was the guy at Microsoft that foisted exchange and outlook on us years ago, I pay attention to emails like that from him. I read it, thought about it, and replied "SMTP is dead, long live SMTP". Tom copied a number of friends on that email exchange (one of the great things about email) and there ensued a long email conversation about the future of email (one of the really bad things about email). We put an end to that by agreeing to meet in my office this morning and hash it out.

Tom blogged about the preparation for the meeting so I won’t repeat the details of who came and what perspective each brought. As always, my blog posts for the next week or two will be heavily influenced by what was said and what I learned in the meeting.

And in proof of the fact that none of this is happening in a vacuum, I just logged onto Techmeme to find a story from Slate on the same topic. My favorite quote from that article is now headlining my tumblog.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. charlie crystle

    Rock is dead, long live rock.The conversation should be about why we communicate in different contexts, and the best ways of sharing information within each context. Start with a framework of principles about people, and the technology will follow. What are the requirements?People shouldn’t have to suffer through spam.People shouldn’t have to jump from one device or application to another to communicate: Messaging interface should be unified.People shouldn’t be dependent on a single server, DNS, protocol, etc to get messages from themselves to other people or sites. People shouldn’t have to know anything about infrastructure or tech that makes it all work.It should be obvious and easy to understand.Principles of trust and attention should inform the methods/devices/techetc…Start with a framework of principels, and the solutions become fairly obvious.Smoke signals.

    1. fredwilson

      Sounds like you were in our meeting charlie, or should have beenFred

      1. charlie crystle

        it’s been on my mind because we can’t count on our email getting to customers because of spam filters, for one, and I’ve been wasting a significant amount of time on filtering through irrelevant mail.We have a way of pushing down messaging to our customers, so we’re starting to use that as the method, and adding a toolbar next year, hopefully.But yeah, I’d love to replace outlook with SalesWorks or GiftWorks as my main way of communicating with people (and for our customers). Just a matter of resources…

  2. pwb

    Email might take a hit but I think any day now we will be discovering that SMTP would be the best way to deliver outbound notifications (for programatic consumption). Request/Response-style APIs are not approriate for everything.

  3. Douglas Karr

    Any chance you can share my thoughts on fixing email so that we can rid ourselves of these terribly ineffective ‘reputation’ schemes that all the ISPs are hiding behind?

  4. Dan Field

    I’m very interested to hear what came out of your meeting with Tom.Email was never designed to be used like it is today… its never going to be a social chat type service like IM or SMS, but will always be around in some form. Businesses are completely reliant on email, sending and receiving all manner of business documents and information.Spam isn’t so much of a problem (Not with our system anyway – ClearMyMail)… and the existing SMTP infrastructure is far too big to change – it would be like changing HTTP, its just not going to happen any time soon.We have some interesting technology in our labs that work on top of the existing SMTP infrastructure and could in theory help with a transition away from it (Not sure a complete move away is needed though).Look forward to your further blogs on this subject!Dan FieldCEOClearMyMail LtdThe worlds only guaranteed spam filter

  5. Tony Alva

    For us users floating ignorantly above all the tech that makes it all work I simply have no idea what all the fuss is about. I have no issues with e-mail whatsoever. I get it on my desktop at work, home, and mobile devices and it works fine. I don’t get 1000’s of e-mails a day, but I do get quite a bit both personal and professional. I’ve followed all the discussion here on this, messaging, twittering, etc… and really can’t figure out how any of these alternatives is going to usurp email as the dominant method for adults communicate in the non-voice manner.Help me understand what it is I’m missing.

    1. fredwilson

      Think about blogging vs email tony. You blog something and it reaches way more people than an email. It stimulates a conversation. Its public and has permanenceIts different than email and better in so many waysFred

  6. Douglas Karr

    Not sure that I agree that it’s ‘all messaging’. I suppose at it’s lowest common denominator that it’s simply transmission of bits and bytes; however, there’s a behavior and expectation associated with each. Expectation of email is that it’s sent at the senders convenience and timed appropriately with a targeted recipient (unless you’re doing mass marketing). Email is purposefully intrusive and must be dealt with carefully so as not to abuse the permission of getting in the inbox.Expectation of a blog post is that I write it at my convenience AND you read it at yours. It’s non-intrusive and has no permission associated with it. As well, the window of expectation for reception is much wider.This is why many marketers struggle with prioritizing 1 medium over another. Each medium has expectations associated with it, as well as strengths and weaknesses. They are all a means of communication, but the behavior associated with each is very different.Equating an email to a blog is much like equating a telephone conversation to a television commercial. It’s not a perfect metaphor – but you get the point.

    1. fredwilson

      But as a recipient, I want to deal with all these messages through some kind of consistent system and its not my email inboxFred

      1. crawford

        Kind of a smorgasmessageoard of sorts? So, Fred, I’m picturing you sitting down to dinner, family all nicely scrubbed and assembled, and you just kinda dump everthing into one big bowl, stir it up a little and shovel it in with both fists. Hmmmmmmm. Curious behavior, that. Oh well, to each his own.

  7. vanelsas

    Hi Fred, I never really understood why Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo didn’t innovate on e-mail as they have a much higher user base there than any social network has. When looking at it from a user perspective, there are some many ways in which it van be improved into something much better.Think about interaction, spamfree multi media sharing, multiple identities, streams, handling urgency, prescence, integration with other address books, etc. The list can get as long as we have time to brainstorm about it. I wrote an article about is a while back, when everyone was hyping about Facebook and e-mail seemed to be the little ugly duck in the pond. I came with nine requests to improve e-mail, and make it a great social interaciton tool (interaction is the most important thing to me). I hope we will get to see some improvements the coming months.

  8. JaeSung Ro

    Do you have any updates regarding the future of email discussionsince your post in two months ago?Actually I am going to talk on same subject at coming Barcamp here in Korea.If you have any updates, it would be appreciated.Thanks in advance,Entrepreneur currently residing in KoreaBy the way, I did enjoy your post on Twitter two hours agoregarding Asian innovation you are anticipating.Sure it will come!

    1. fredwilson

      I am still working all this ‘future of email’ stuff out in ny headIt is interesting to note that a lot of the viral marketing stuff that happens on facebook and other social nets still uses email for notificationFred

      1. JaeSung

        Thanks for update.In our perspectives,new type of messaging is an exchange of either ‘pointer for web resource, i.e, link’ or ‘short note’ instead of current email.Let us know in case there is a second round of discussionso that we can contribute more.JaeSung