Email could be wiped out by social networking sites and instant messaging within the next ten years, according to a leading professor.

Professor David Zeitlyn from the University of Kent came to the conclusion because of the rise in the use of websites like Facebook and Twitter.

These sites are seen as more fashionable and faster and easier to use, plus they can be accessed from anywhere with mobile phone technology.

Professor Zeitlyn found that although 15 to 24-year-olds do use email, they use instant messaging and social networking sites more often.

He discovered that older generations are more reliant on email and don't find it as easy to shift to using the latest communication technology.

But as sites like Twitter become more popular, even with celebrities and politicians, people of all ages may end up prefering faster methods of communication.

Professor Zeitlyn says: "Email took 20 years to develop into the phenomenon it is now, but could take just half as long to die out again."

But not everyone in the technological world supports his prediction.

Dan Grabham from TechRadar magazine told Sky News Online: "Email won't completely die off - it'll probably still be used for some important purposes such as sending crucial files to someone particular.

"But it's clear that for quick, direct communication Twitter and other social systems are easier to use and can garner a far quicker response - not least because inboxes continue to fill up with unstoppable junk."