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FaceBook Unfriends Google.. via email

I'm sure many of you have heard that Facebook now plans to offer an email service.

Clearly part of this is to undermine Gmail's presence (though I'm skeptical at how successful it will be.. Gmail is in my opinion the best large-scale web application currently in existence).

What's little known is that while Gmail is wildly successful at ~190 million users - Hotmail & Yahoo are still far ahead the leaders with over 600 million combined. Facebook is sitting pretty at 500 million, but I fear the 'beer logic' that says FB adding email means FB Mail will suddenly have 500 million users and be the #1 email provider is rather disingenuous.

Changing your email address sucks. Email = identity on the web. Facebook obviously realizes this and has jumped in the pool - but it seems like a step backwards.

On the other hand, I'm surprised because for some time I have had the impression that Facebook was taking the "Apple-style high road" in the sense that they would sorta look down on email as being too boring for them to be involved in and focus on newer and more innovative ways to interchange information and 'build social' as it were. The notion of "real names" and your identity being more an outgrowth of your interests / communities seems much more useful than a mere email address.

I guess Paul Buchheit (Gmail's creator) agrees as he has now left Facebook. He's indicated that he didn't work on Facebook Mail "because he's bored with email". Me too Paul.


Bottom Line - I'm not sold that email really fits into Facebook's social focus. Those daily interactions have already moved into IM/fb/twitter/SMS. I only really use email for things like.. business, signups.. and notifications. Sure there's the odd mailing list, but those have mostly moved to forums or blogs. I realize there is data to be mined here.. but I don't think it's really "social".

Really the oddest thing about this is that email is essentially a way of messaging across domains. That's all it is! There is no 'microsoft email network' or 'CNN email network'. Email is universal on the Internet so facebook moving towards supporting that points to a much larger land grab.

From a purely technical aspect, I find the namespace issue an interesting one. Facebook has such a massive subscriber base that names are certainly not unique whatsoever. How will they handle this? I don't really want to be brian.russo1298@facebook.com. 500 million is really big. Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo solve this two-fold - by offering various domains or.. in the case of at least Gmail - you can host your own domains there (I do). Even then we see Joe.Brazzi1293@hotmail.com. Yuck.

Gizmodo's coverage of this notes that a benefit is Facebook already knows who you interact with and therefore has a natural advantage of being able to prioritize your mail and so forth. I'm not so sure that this is quite as useful for many of us because as I've previously mentioned - we use email differently now (At least I do and I don't think I'm that radically different).

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Comment by Brian on December 4, 2010 at 1:02am
That is interesting Alex, thanks for pointing that out.

@Paul, I agree but I think losing familiarity with an existing system is part of the switching cost.

It's funny actually.. because honestly the idea of using IMAP or POP (once so familiar) now seems absolutely ridiculous to me.
Comment by Paul Graydon on December 2, 2010 at 10:05pm
I'm not sure I'd agree it's high switching costs necessarily. It's fairly easy to get your data out of gmail, for example. I think it's more a question of familiarity, and sufficient features. Every product has a learning curve, and the longer you use it the more comfortable you are with it. To then change service requires the new service to have something significantly of value to make it worth moving out of your comfort zone.

I know people that use extremely outdated and long since past development e-mail clients when their e-mail is stored on a remote server and they access it over IMAP, and even though there are newer and superior ones out there. They dont' change simply because it's what they feel most comfortable with, and there is nothing wrong with that :)
Comment by Alex Salkever on December 2, 2010 at 8:15pm
Brian, an interesting note. If you look at the age demos of the different major email groups, they actually track when those email services were most prevalent. Obvious evidence of very strong lock-in and very high switching costs.
Comment by Paul Graydon on November 16, 2010 at 6:34pm
Given Facebook's track record with privacy I think people would be fools to use their services.
Comment by Brian on November 16, 2010 at 12:11am
Sounds like it. While the impact/benefit of this is TBD, I'm not smelling a lot of innovation at this point. I wonder if this is why a guy like Buchheit left?
Comment by Cameron Souza on November 16, 2010 at 12:09am
So, we are basically getting FaceWave - most likely a crappier version of Google Wave that actually gets used because Facebook is going to make it instantly available to half a billion people.
Comment by Brian on November 15, 2010 at 11:58pm
The idea of having an 'all in one' inbox isn't really new - they simply have the ability to actually deliver it to enough people to make an impact.

At the end of the day there still has to be an actual email address. Of course they will hide this so far as internal messages are concerned - again nothing new.. we've had directories since before IP.

It's starting to sound like they're simply retooling their internal messaging system to be SMTP-based.

"It sounds so simple. We have all this technology that should be enabling that but it's not. It's fragmenting that. So I have one conversation on email with my grandfather and another with my cousin on sms and all these things don't work the same way.

"I shouldn't have to worry about the technology. I should just have to worry about the person and the message. Everything else is just getting in the way," added Mr Bosworth.
Comment by Gorm Lai on November 15, 2010 at 11:13pm
From what I gather they are completely trying to reinvent email, so I don't think they will have email username clashes and those kind of things. A quote from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11760050,

The new feature will simplify how people communicate whether it be via text, instant messages, online chat or email. All these messages will come into one feed known as a social inbox allowing users to reply in any way they want.

I think this will be a new take on Google Wave, which I think was a brilliant idea up against difficult odds.
Comment by Cameron Souza on November 15, 2010 at 7:27pm
Teens and twenty somethings will use it. Everyone else will ignore it. It will be blocked by every firewall in existence.
Comment by Brian on November 15, 2010 at 7:22pm
Yeah.. one thing I didn't mention of course is the recent 'contact spat' between Google & Facebook.

What I find peculiar is that while Google has (IMO) a better track-record on actual privacy (though sometimes a sloppy PR problem), people have no problem putting all sorts of data in Facebook which has constantly demonstrated it wants to twist people's arms to "their" definition of privacy and information control.

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