Is Email The Future Of Social Media?

    April 16, 2012
    Chris Crum

It’s quite interesting that despite all of the social media offerings and new features from social networks that have come out over the last several years, we continue to see not only email continue to thrive as a communication channel, but increased focus put on it even by the major social media channels. This seems to indicate that email is here for the long haul.

Which would you rather give up, social media or email? Let us know in the comments.

Email is still bigger than social. A recent study by Ipsos for Reuters indicated that (85%) of online-connected global citizens in 24 countries use the internet for emails while six in ten (62%) use it for social networking.

The actual social significance of email is interesting in itself. Another recent study found that the contents of your email inbox reflect your real life ties to the people in your life, as Drew Bowling reported.

Facebook introduced its own email addresses and its social inbox in 2010. Now, the company is again putting email in the spotlight as it has linked users’ timeline names to their Facebook email addresses. The company writes:

Starting today, we’re updating addresses on Facebook to make them consistent across our site. Now, the address people use to get to your timeline and send you email on Facebook will be the same.

Updated addresses will be rolled out over the next few weeks. Note: Anyone who already selected an email address will not be affected.

Despite comments about email “probably going away” once made by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, it’s clear that Facebook recognizes its continued importance. Hell, even Mark Zuckerberg’s dog uses it:

Mark Zuckerberg's Dog using email

While Google considers Google+ its “social spine,” it has integrated it into Gmail, and will probably continue to do so in more ways. From a competitive standpoint, it makes sense for Facebook to merge social network connections with email as well. The two companies already compete in numerous areas, and will probably end up competing in even more (possibly even search).

In a previous article, I asked the question: Can Google+ rival Facebook? I’ve been hoping people would read the article before answering that. In summary, it’s about Google+ as CEO Larry Page described it during the company’s earnings call this week. He described it as consisting of two parts: the “social spine” and the “social destination”. Most people probably think about the social destination part when they think about Google+, and for that reason, would most likely respond with a quick “no” to my question. However, it’s the “social spine” part, which makes the question more intriguing in my opinion. Google already has Facebook-like user numbers. YouTube alone has 800 million monthly active users. When you consider Google+ as the “social spine” of Google itself, the whole thing becomes framed as Google vs. Facebook rather than Google+ vs. Facebook, and that sounds like a much more interesting match-up.

Back in Google’s pre-IPO days, Google was known as a search engine. These days it’s known as a tech giant with its hands in just about everything tech/Internet related. Facebook is only getting ready for its own IPO. It makes you wonder what Facebook will be like ten years from now. These days, Google has its own mobile operating system (actually two), futuristic glasses and cars that drive themselves, just to name a few things. What might we see from Facebook down the road?

The point is, these two companies (certainly with others in the mix as well) are already competing in an increasing number of areas, and you have to wonder if that number of areas will continue to grow.

At the heart of many of these areas will be users’ social connections. That’s where Facebook began, and that’s where that “social spine” comes in for Google. Email, however, is a major, and still more popular element of social connection. Facebook may have started in social, but Google’s been doing email for much longer. In fact, many of you probably use your Gmail address to log into Facebook on a daily basis.

We’ve really only seen the beginning of what Google is going to do with Google+. Larry Page made that clear during the earnings call too. There are already 120 integrations, but Google is focused on making more. Google+ may be the “social spine” of Google, but email is still part of the Internet’s backbone.

Google will continue to look for innovations with Gmail too. I’d be very surprised if we don’t see Facebook looking at what it can do with email even more too, especially now, with the direct timeline link. Of course, others will continue to look for ways to innovate as well. In fact, some former Googlers are doing this right now with Fluent, which brings a social media-like format to email.

Email led to social media in the first place. It’s quite interesting that it still plays such a large role, and may even be a significant part of where social media is headed.

Could you survive on the web without email? Tell us in the comments.