Email is old news, and it’s getting less efficient by the day.
Chances are, you’re still using email for all kinds of communication throughout each day – personal letters, quick messages, business communications, group memos and sending files. But there’s also a good chance that email is far from the best way to accomplish that communication. It’s impersonal and inefficient, and you’re taking a chance of getting lost in the shuffle of coupons, inane chain letters and invitations to enlarge certain anatomical parts. Here are 15 alternatives for online use and off, for both business and personal purposes.
Sending a personal note to a friend or family member? If your message is longer than a few sentences, do it the old-fashioned way. Now that letter writing has nearly died off altogether, receiving a hand-written letter in the mail is like getting a gift. It’s nice to be able to hold something in your hand, but there’s more to it than that. Something about the blank pages of actual stationery encourages us to be more poetic with our language, to meander a little in our correspondence, share more of ourselves than we would when staring at a blinking cursor on a computer screen.
For those moments when your message just can’t wait, nothing beats texting. It’s quick, it’s short and you can be pretty confident that your recipient will see it fairly quickly. It used to be that texting was reserved for people you know well – like friends and family – but its use in the business world has grown a lot in recent years. While texting can be great for messages like the time and place to meet a client, keep it brief and save serious or sensitive topics for phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
Don’t rely on email when you just need some quick back-and-forth communication. These days, most of us don’t compulsively check our email like we used to, especially when our inboxes are packed with junk and messages that are pretty low on our priority lists. Gchat, Skype and Facebook Messages are just a few options that are superior to email when you need to ask a quick question but aren’t on familiar enough terms to text.
Considering that pretty much everybody is on Facebook, it’s not surprising to hear that the social network’s messaging system is quickly replacing email altogether for many people, especially teens and twenty-somethings. Facebook Messages essentially combine email, text and chat into one place by offering real-time threaded conversations that can be sent and accessed across a range of devices, including phones. Even people who aren’t on Facebook can communicate through Facebook Messages by sending email to your own personal Facebook email address, which has recently been foisted upon you whether you like it or not.
Who says you can only send postcards when traveling? If you’ve just got a short message that you don’t mind being seen by various mail carriers and processors across the country, jot it down on a postcard. Stationery stores are packed with pretty postcards and note cards, and hunting down just the right one for your recipient is half the fun.
No need to go through the trouble of finding a place to print out your photos while you’re on vacation, or even hunt for the perfect postcards so you can send them to loved ones back home. An app called Postagram turns any of your Instagram photos into a postcard and sends them to the addresses of your choice for just 99 cents. It’s even more personal than choosing a pre-made image, putting your own unique spin on the sights you’re seeing.
There’s a time and a place for writing email, and the driver’s seat is not among them. While multi-tasking and driving is probably never the greatest idea, you can fit in a few extra tasks using one of the many dictation apps available for smartphones. Dragon Dictation is one popular choice. You simply speak your message into your phone, and the app turns it into text that you can send via email or any other communication service you like. GoogleVoice, which offers basic call/text/voicemail services, has similar capabilities. You can even set it up to take a call from your cell number, transcribe your message and store it in your Gmail.
Maybe it’s not correspondence in the conventional sense, but if your messages don’t contain specific instructions or anything that would need to be written down, video chat is a great alternative to email. It gives back all of those irreplaceable face-to-face signals that you’re missing in text, like tone of voice and body language.
The only thing that’s better than receiving a hand-written letter in the mail is finding a package on your doorstep, marked with the return address of somebody you love. And sometimes, “just because” gifts are better than birthday gifts, simply because they’re totally unexpected. Send something meaningful along with that letter. But don’t forget the letter.
Twitter Direct Messages
The fact that you’re limited to 140 characters per tweet is what makes Twitter work the way it does: you’re forced to condense your communications down to the absolute basics. The same goes for direct messages, or DMs, sent to other Twitter users. Twitter DMs can be another quick and efficient way to get across a small amount of info. The only limitation, aside from the fact that you can’t be sure your intended recipient is actually checking them, is that DMs can only be sent between users that follow each other.
Get up to 10 people together to talk business or just catch up using Google+ Hangouts. This group video chat service replaces Google’s 1:1 video chat, Google Talk, and was recently integrated right into Gmail. The catch? You’ve got to have a Google+ account. It’s a pretty nice feature that Facebook has yet to offer, and there’s no harm in signing up for Google+ just to use Hangouts.
Take the short-is-better spirit of Twitter and apply it to email by limiting yourself to just three sentences. A service called Three.sentenc.es cuts out all the unnecessary information and pleasantries that normally accompany an email, saving time for both sender and recipient. Like Twitter DMs, it forces you to keep your message short. While you could argue that this terse style of communication could lead to dumbed-down language and social blunders, three-sentence emails could certainly help you avoid an intimidating pile-up of unread messages in your inbox.
For in-house business communications, email can be a pretty inelegant and inefficient solution. Enter services like Yammer and Chatter, which aim to bring conversations, content and business data into one place where everything is updated in real time. Essentially, they’re like a private Twitter or Facebook for companies. Accessible through the web, mobile phones or desktop applications, these services are essentially virtual offices that replace email altogether for many companies.
If you need to send large attachments, email definitely isn’t the best way to go. First of all, it’s slow, and has a fairly small maximum file size. But more importantly, it’s not secure. DropBox is just one of many services that enables quick and easy file transfers from one device to another, and from one user to another.
Hopefully you’re not still emailing documents with multiple contributors and/or editors between a group of people, dealing with all of the headaches that come with multiple versions of the same document. This practice has gone the way of newsgroups and AOL chat rooms. Use GoogleDocs instead, where you can create, share and collaborate on documents, which are stored online for easy access from anywhere in the world.