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Standards-Based vs The New Standard

Yesterday, Ben Jabbawy from Privy shared a tweet that began with with "Bullish on email, again, in 2021."

He included this graphic, from Shopify's Black Friday Cyber Monday 2020 Analysis.

Email has been declared dead more times than I can recall. At various points in time, I probably declared it dead, too. But it isn't dead. It's more alive than ever.

Like email, obituaries for SMS have been written and re-written many times over the past decade. iMessage, WhatsApp, and a barrage of new social messaging apps would kill it off. Twilio's revenue growth would suggest it's very much alive and well.

So, why'd this happen? I've a few theories.

First, shiny new things always attract column inches. Before Facebook became the social media behemoth that it is today, Bebo was the darling of the day. AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger were the darlings a decade or more before.

Technology media love to document technology wars, but often assume incumbent technologies aren't invited to the battle. They're assumed dead before shots are even fired.

Second, technology wars are a battle to become "The New Standard." I'm not sure I agree with him, but Peter Thiel has written books and articles declaring "competition is for losers." Yet, if your aim is to build a monopoly, you self-exclude yourself from interacting, integrating, or collaborating with others that want the same monopoly power as you. AIM and MSN Messenger had a strange history here.

Which takes us to my third theory, and to the topic of this post. SMS, Email, and other Standards-Based technologies like them rarely expire because nobody "owns" them.

The first proposal which initiated the development of SMS was made by a contribution of Germany and France in the GSM group meeting in February 1985 in Oslo. GSM - Global System for Mobile Communications - was itself formed in 1983 to develop a European standard for digital cellular voice telecommunications. By 1987, 15 representatives from 13 European countries had signed a memorandum of understanding to support it. An invention borne of collaboration, not competition.

Similarly, there is no single inventor, or single owner, of the Internet Protocol suite that enables us to send, retrieve, or store email messages. POP, SMTP, and IMAP are core to, and interoperable with, every noteworthy computer operating system in existence today. It's not a Zero-sum game. There is no monopoly to play for. There can be no "winner" in a war against email, SMS, or the open web. There's nothing to fight over.

New technology products will come and go, each vying to become "The New Standard" of something. But if that something is a protocol, not a product, creators of these products should consider how they might augment - not replace - existing standards.