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Study: E-mail to Double by 2006

If businesses and consumers already feel under pressure when coping with the current volume of e-mail, they almost certainly won't be cheered by new findings that suggest that the volume of e-mail will double by 2006, according to researcher IDC.

In a recent study, the consultancy concluded that the number of e-mails sent will grow from the present level of 31 billion a day to 60 billion in just over three years.

That's likely to present a problem for a whole spectrum of New Economy businesses. For one thing, productivity could continue to suffer as enterprises lose still more hours to the onerous task of sifting through messages, deleting spam, and so on.

"Like water flowing out of a hose, e-mail has the potential to fill our inboxes and workdays, overwhelming our abilities to navigate through the growing currents of content," said Mark Levitt, vice president of IDC's Collaborative Computing program and a co-author of the study.

Internet Service Providers are also likely to suffer as a result of the trend, as they are forced to shoulder far greater burdens in managing the volume of mail crossing their servers. That could translate to higher costs for enterprises and consumers that use them.

Permission-based online marketers, who already say they're seeing the negative impact that too much e-mail has on open rates and purchases, will have to contend with further withering of response rates. Some might even have to seek out new channels for delivering consumers' requested marketing offers.

"To ensure that e-mail continues to be a valuable business and personal communications tool, suppliers and customers will need to find new ways to provide near-real-time access through desktop, mobile, and wireless devices to important and time-sensitive e-mail content and alerts for more effective collaboration," he added.

According to IDC, about half of the e-mail that crosses the Internet in 2006 will be person-to-person communications. The rest is comprised of automated mailings, such as stock price alerts or newsletters, or marketing messages -- both wanted and unwanted.

That's potentially another worry, since such automated and sales-related communications now only make up about 33 percent of e-mail volume. As a result, ISPs, enterprises and e-mail providers will have to dedicate more time, effort and money to keeping e-mail as efficient a communications channel as it is now -- potentially purchasing services like anti-spam filtering, or developing such capabilities in-house.

ISPs, which estimate that about 10 to 50 percent of the e-mail currently crossing their networks are unwanted spam, are already staggering under the costly mass of e-mail that crosses their systems. That situation is unlikely to improve when non-personal mailings account for a higher proportion of the Internet's e-mail.

IDC also found that Web-based services are currently -- and are expected to remain -- the predominant means for checking e-mail, particularly for Internet users' non-business accounts. As a result, much of the onus for curbing consumer-targeted spam could fall on portals and e-mail providers like MSN Hotmail.