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 email@example.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).