If email is dead, why so many new email products?

For years we’ve heard that email is circling the drain. Too much noise. Too much spam. Too distracting. Young people text. Blah blah blah. Given all that, many of us (ahem) still spend a ton of time on email — at least at work.

And there’s been a spate of new email products — including two from [company]Google[/company] and [company]IBM [/company] — to address this allegedly moribund market. Microsoft Clutter is another entry as is Dropbox Mailbox, with new iOS 8 support, on the consumer side. There is also talk –based on a blank blog post from a Microsoft exec, that Microsoft is about to buy Acompli, an iOS/Android email app aiming to — you got it — simplify email including making it easier to schedule meetings from an email message itself. Oh and Tipbit!

Granted, most of these products aim to tame the beast that is email by making it more “social” and by automatically routing the incoming barrage into rational “buckets,” but their very existence indicates that email is far from DOA.

Computer scientist Nathaniel Borenstein, who helped write the MIME standard for multimedia mail and chief scientist at Mimecast,  is the latest to refute the “email is dead” meme in the Wall Street Journal. While he concedes that email needs to get easier to manage and “more social,” it is still invaluable. The MIME protocol is used a trillion times a day, he noted. That doesn’t sound like a death rattle to me.

Clearing the inbox clutter

Google Inbox, available by invite only thus far, has gotten some pretty positive reaction  for cleaning up the email experience especially for mobile users. Gigaom’s Kevin Tofel, who reviewed it here, likes its “intelligent auto-bundling of mail: bills get routed to a Finance group, Twitter stuff to Social, and lots of useless crap to Low Priority.” (Ah, you gotta love that Low Priority bucket. It’s not quite spam, but…)

He also likes a one swipe snoozing feature that lets you “hide” mail until some time in the future.

Inbox sounds useful for users at least those with personal Gmail accounts but is not available for paid Google accounts — so if you’re outside that camp it’s not an option.

Earlier this month when IBM announed Verse, which it claims “reinvents the inbox,” my response was a gigantic eye roll. This is the latest take on email from the company that spent $3.5 billion to buy Notes/Domino (oh, and Lotus) more than a decade ago. I’m sure there are IBM email users out there — but I’m also reasonably certain most of them are at IBM. Still, Big Blue is at least is acknowledging the glut of email choking our desktops.

Here’s a description of Verse in IBMspeak:

“IBM Verse takes a vastly different approach to enterprise email by integrating the many ways employees connect each day – via email, meetings, calendars, file sharing, instant messaging, social updates, video chats and more – through a single collaboration environment. It is the first messaging system to feature ‘faceted search,’ which enables users to pinpoint and retrieve specific information they’re seeking across all the various types of content within their email.”

Still, I’m hazy on how and if Verse fits into IBM’s Connections/Sametime/Domino stable of email/collaboration/real-time messaging products, and apparently am not alone in that.

An IBM spokesman said Verse “leverages” — but does not require — IBM’s Domino mail server — and “fully integrates with the IBM Connections platform, which powers the built-in social capabilities.”

Gigaom Analyst Stowe Boyd, who covered Verse here, said (via email!) it is a re-branding of the Mail Next product IBM showed off last spring. Verse is an alternative email client with calendaring, and other features, he noted, adding, “It is not clear where it ends and Connections begins, but it feels like a competitor to that and Notes.”

A cynic might say IBM could do its bit to clear up email confusion by getting its own product house in order. But to be fair, it (and Google and Dropbox and others) have latched onto a problem afflicting millions of people. And where there is a problem, there is opportunity.

This story was updated at 10:10 a.m. to include mention of Microsoft Clutter as another inbox cleaner-upper and an IBM’s spokesman’s clarification of where Verse fits into the rest of IBM’s collaboration gear. It was updated again at 5:26 a.m. Dec. 1 to add reference to Microsoft’s reported interest in buying Acompli.)