Comdex Canada panel predicts death of e-mail

As a colourful, Olympics-mad crowd danced with anticipation (and later, disappointment) outside, inside Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre a less colourful, but equally vigorous panel debated Canada’s e-future.

“The Internet will continue to baffle the suits and the economists, and take the business models and turn them upside down – and [this process] will accelerate,” said Andrew Ryeland, Toronto-based CTO of Tech Inspirations, a venture capital company headquartered in Florida, speaking at a panel discussion convened at Comdex Canada 2001.

Despite attempts to compartmentalize its users and businesses, cyberspace remains fundamentally chaotic, Ryeland said, concluding a self-described “rant from a 60-something” tech survivor.

Rather than focusing on short-term or technical issues, the panel looked five to 10 years down the information superhighway to examine the possible social and economic implications of the Internet’s ongoing evolution.

One of the panel’s most surprising predictions (judging by the reaction of the audience) were “the death of e-mail” predicted by Duncan Cameron, the discussion’s chair and the director of applications and technology relations for i2 Technologies (Canada) Inc.

Given its potential for time wasting through endless tags, jokes and the desire to compose communications that are needlessly flowery, instant messenger-type services are the way of the future, Cameron said.

Although currently viewed as a novelty used mostly for “chit-chat”, the panelists agreed instant messaging would become a powerful tool for business communication once broadband nodes become the norm. In fact, once a few big corporate users scale down their e-mail use, its demise is only a matter of time, they said.

Broadband and media convergence, and especially Canada’s coming clash of the convergence titans is another area to watch, the panelists said

“It’s no mistake that BCE and Rogers are the two Canadian convergence giants. They both want that fat pipe into your house,” said Ryeland.

Although audience members from rural New Brunswick, and Thunder Bay, Ont., expressed their doubt, Ryeland also predicted that by 2004 the vast majority of Canadian homes would have affordable access to broadband Internet connections.

Ash Seha, a product manager with i2, predicted a shakedown where firms with thrown-together business models will be “rapidly debunked like so many dot-coms were.” Following this cull, though, he anticipates that converged media companies will experience “slow, but real growth.”

Ultimately, it was Ryeland who bought down the house with his fiery concluding remarks about the hubris of those who claim to have a handle on a fundamentally anarchic medium. “I am disdainful of big businesses that think they have finally tamed the Internet,” he said. “There are still no rules.”

Comdex can be found at i2 Technologies Inc. is at Tech Inspirations is at