As if the strain that spam and e-mail alerts are putting on in-boxes weren’t enough, expect even more in the coming years as the overall number of e-mail messages climbs to 60 billion a day by 2006, market researcher IDC predicts.

Of the 31 billion e-mail messages that move across the Internet and private networks daily now, about two-thirds are person-to-person communications and the rest is made up of spam, notifications and alerts for information such as stock prices and sports scores. By 2006, a little over half of the 60 billion messages sent daily will be person-to-person, said Mark Levitt, vice president of IDC’s collaborative computing program.

To ensure e-mail remains a valuable business tool, e-mail software vendors and users will have to find ways to quickly access the most important and timely e-mail messages, said Levitt, who co-wrote a recently published IDC study on e-mail usage with Robert Mahowald, research manager in IDC’s collaborative computing program.

As a result of the e-mail onslaught, users will demand message filtering technology, IDC concludes in the report titled Worldwide E-mail Usage Forecast, 2002-2006: Know What’s Coming Your Way. The report examines how e-mail has been and will be used for business and personal purposes. It looks at e-mail usage in North America and worldwide markets, including breakdowns of users by type, primary access methods and sent e-mails by purpose and type.

The study aims to help develop an understanding of how e-mail will evolve in light of other newer communication tools, such as instant messaging. It examines what type of communication is appropriate in a particular situation, and it takes into account that there’s often a human factor when new technologies encroach on old ones.

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