Rumor has it that Facebook will unveil its webmail product on Monday. That means look out Yahoo Mail. Look out Hotmail, and more interestingly in the grand scheme of things, look out Gmail.
I was going to wait until the official announcement from Facebook on Monday to talk about this, so we can get all the real details about what this will entail, but as long as the cat's out of the bag, we might as well talk about what this might mean.
What would a Facebook email address mean to you? Comment here.
Should Google Be Worried?
According to unnamed sources cited by TechCrunch, the company will announce what it is referring to internally as its "Gmail killer". It would appear more than obvious who the real target is here, and if Facebook plays it right, Gmail, which reportedly has about 170 million users, may be in a world of hurt up against Facebook's more than half a billion.
As the tech community still awaits Google's next social moves (the "social layers" they're supposedly adding to existing products) Facebook appears to be going straight for what is arguably Google's greatest social asset. Gmail is the main hub of communication and social activity in the Google universe. If the need for that is eliminated by Facebook, where many of these users are already spending a great deal of their online time anyway (as well as building their real social circles of real world friends), what will they really need Gmail for?
A lot of sites require you to give an email address to sign up for their services. This is one reason that social networks can't replace email. However, when a social network offers that email, it's a different story.
Why Facebook Email Could Be Useful
Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz makes some interesting points about what a Facebook webmail service could mean. "Remember that Facebook's mail is rumored to have external mail client access as well as its dedicated webmail interface," he writes. "It will be easy to have it in every single gadget you own."
"Moreover, it's not only about separating what is important and what is not," he later adds. "Their tracking data could allow them to do other things, like prioritizing mail from the person who just became your fiance or lowering the priority of that ex who keeps mailing you. They can also let you enable easy filtering options to automatically prioritize your mail and file it into separate boxes. The possibilities of using your social interactions to enhance the mail experience are endless, and I have no doubt that Facebook will exploit all of them to your (and their) advantage."
Facebook Trying to Become Email?
Such a move by Facebook is not entirely unexpected. This has been rumored for the better part of the year, but it is still somewhat curious, considering comments made earlier this year by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who basically called email all but dead (a point we argued with rigorously in this article).
Facebook knows how important email is. Or is the company simply trying to phase email out? If they can get everyone using Facebook email, the way they've gotten so many to use its service in general, they can begin to control the way that feature works, and could conceivably just merge it with other features to the point where people just find themselves using "Facebook" to communicate and sign in everywhere. Is Facebook trying to BE email?
This will never happen completely (meaning they will never get EVERYBODY), but if the email feature gets the kind of adoption Facebook in general has, it might be enough to where it doesn't make much difference. Right now, technically not EVERYONE is on Facebook, but for all intents and purposes, everyone's on Facebook.
There will no doubt be plenty of privacy concerns about this, for the simple fact that Facebook has drawn so many in the past. It doesn't matter how well they actually do honor privacy with this. Some people will just be too nervous to completely commit all their private email information to Facebook.
It will be very interesting to see how Facebook email affects email marketing, particularly if the type of thing Diaz is talking about comes to fruition - relevance/priority of messages determined by social interaction.
An Unlimited Amount of Useful Features?
One positive thing about having your email right in Facebook is that it would eliminate the problem of having to check both your email and Facebook separately. There are already various integrations where you can do these things from a single place, but having it all compact right in Facebook could be a more attractive experience for a lot of users.
Another potentially positive aspect of Facebook email could be the sheer amount of features that that users could gain access to. If you were able to utilize different apps built by third-party developers to change the functionality of your inbox, that could be very powerful.
Gmail users love Gmail Labs - when Google launches new experimental features - but imagine having the whole Facebook developer community building different features for your inbox that you can turn on and off. It could make for a much more personalized and customized experience, allowing users to make their inbox as useful as possible.
It Makes Sense.
In many ways, Facebook email would make a lot of sense, in the same way Facebook payments make sense. You're already signing into things all over the web your Facebook account, this is one more thing to add to the mix.
As long as you are able to take your messages with you, should you be want to close your Facebook account, there are a lot of potential advantages. We don't know if this is the case or not, however, at this point. This is why I initially wanted to wait for the actual announcement.
Either way, here's some ideas to chew on over the weekend. We'll no doubt be discussing this more next week.
Would you use a Facebook email service as your primary email account? Let us know.