My medium can beat up your medium

Scary bloke by AphasiaFilms

I recently indulged in some arm-waving about how email is the Big Daddy of message systems, despite all the glamorous alternatives taking the spotlight. To back this up with some data, I set out to get some rough global usage figures for the top text-based mediums out there; email, SMS, Facebook, IM, blogs and Twitter.

  • Facebook has over 70 million active users. As a closed system, it’s hard to work out the message frequency, but around 2 a day seems plausible to me. That would mean around 50 billion sent each year.
  • The comScore global IM user count is 800 million. Guessing again an average of 2 messages a day, that’s 600 billion messages a year.
  • SenderBase indicates that there’s around 3 billion non-spam emails a day. That’s around 1 trillion messages annually.

Email, SMS and IM are the clear winners in raw volume. It does lead me to wonder about the driving forces behind choosing which system to use.

Privacy is obviously important. Tomi Ahonen has a great comment on this story where he talks about kids using SMS to friends in the same room, not for convenience but because a clandestine communication channel is a powerful social bonding tool. There’s a widespread assumption that openness is both good and inevitable, but we’re just primates at heart, and sharing secrets is one equivalent of picking fleas off each others backs.

Using the raw numbers like this is obviously unfair. I put a lot more time into an average blog post than an email, my Facebook messages have more content than my IMs, and I seldom use anything but email for business communications. Even so, the statistics make a strong case that despite their growth, other systems will take a long time to pass email.

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