Email vs Instant Messaging - What’s the Difference?

Oren Todoros
By Oren Todoros, Updated on June 17, 2024, 5 min read
instant messaging vs email

From the moment you pick up your smartphone first thing in the morning to the final email of the day before clocking off—whether in the office or at home—we all love a good chat. In fact, we’re spending an increasing amount of time communicating with each other from behind a screen. We just can’t get enough.


Today, most people spend a lot of time switching between multiple apps, sending important emails for work, keeping in touch with friends and family, or even just forwarding another Grumpy Cat meme. Email and instant messaging are two of the most popular ways to stay connected, but what’s the difference? And does it really matter?


The email vs instant messaging debate is a problematic one, and while each has its pros and cons, neither of them ticks all the boxes. Here, we look at what each offers and what the future holds for digital communication.


Dating back all the way to the birth of home computing in the 70s, email is a true veteran. Its instantly recognizable “letter writing” format has made it both familiar and accessible to everyone, and with an estimated 2.9 billion email users worldwide as of 2019, its appeal spans from the personal to the professional. Email is great for sharing files and provides a written record of communications which can be particularly important in a business setting. The main difference between email and instant messaging, however, is generally the speed of communication and susceptibility to junk and spam mail.






Easy Access — anyone with a computer or smartphone can sign up for a unique email address from any provider. They are usually free and can be used to contact any other email address regardless of provider.


  Speed— unlike instant messaging or instant chat, email relies on the recipient retrieving the message from the mail server. This means that you don’t really know when the recipient has viewed the message.
Group Messages— particularly useful for business communications, group messaging allows you to send a single mail to a large number of recipients. Each recipient can then participate in the group.


  Junk & Spam — the deluge of junk and spam mail is a daily nightmare. In fact, the billions of spam messages sent everyday are seriously impacting productivity.
Archiving— email allows easy archiving and ensures you have a written record of previous messages, threads, and attachments.


 Malware— email is particularly susceptible to malware and viruses. Attachments and links sent through email can easily catch anyone off guard, and a variety of viruses can be spread this way.


Instant Messaging

When comparing email vs instant messaging, it’s interesting to look at the history behind them both. Instant messaging is a relative newcomer but has been gradually growing in popularity. Today, there are billions of active users spread across popular chat alternatives such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype to name but a few. It is fast, responsive, and very easy to use, however, it lacks the gravitas of email and is generally considered suitable only for informal messaging.





Instant— messages are received on the device instantly whenever the recipient is online. Notifications ensure that received messages are acknowledged.


  Intrusive— unlike email, it’s hard to ignore the constant notifications and, if you turn alerts off, you risk negating the benefits of its instant nature.
Responsive— unlike email, instant messaging tends to elicit a response much faster. People are generally more willing to reply immediately.


  Proprietary— when communicating through chat alternatives, both parties must use the same chat service.
Brief— the difference between email and instant messaging is that the latter is usually brief and to the point. Instant messaging follows a stream of consciousness type format follows the informal rules of a casual chat.


  Lack of Archiving— it may be difficult, or even impossible to archive your chats and refer back to shared information at a later date.



It is clear then, that the email vs instant messaging debate places the two mediums into different camps. As a general rule, email lends itself towards business communications whereas instant messaging is better for informal chat.

What if There was a way to end the Email vs Instant Messaging Debate?

We think that by combining the best of both worlds, you can increase your productivity and decrease the headaches that come with managing multiple communication tools. In fact, by harnessing the features of both email and instant messaging, you can enjoy professional communications in real-time—allowing you to focus on people and not app management.


Spike email client taps into your existing email to bring you conversational email—a solution designed to give you the immediacy of instant messenger with the professionalism of email. You can chat with friends, family, colleagues and clients in the same way you would through your favourite messenger app, and you can always see who is online and whether they have received your message—no more switching between apps and no more endless waiting for replies. The best part is, however, that you are no longer tied to proprietary apps, and you can access all of Spike’s great functions even if your colleagues and friends are still using regular old email.


You can easily speak to your friends or increase productivity at work through Groups—a place to create, collaborate, or just chat. Anyone can use Spike, regardless of the email provider, however, Spike also works seamlessly even if your contacts haven’t made the switch. This means everyone is always connected, wherever they are.


Spike organizes your inbox by contact, letting you speak to the people who matter most without having to search out email subjects. We’ve ditched the long and confusing email threads and streamlined the whole process, losing the old-fashioned email signatures, headers and other unimportant information to make online chatting simple and responsive.


Discover conversational email from Spike, the all-in-one tool designed to let you talk to real people in real-time. Download the app today and enjoy the best of both email and instant messaging on desktop, smartphone, and tablet.




Oren Todoros
Oren Todoros Oren is a strategic thinker with over 20 years of experience in the marketing industry and is the current Head of Content Strategy at Spike. He's also the proud father of 3 beautiful daughters and a dog named Milo.

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