Is Email Facebook’s Next Frontier?

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facebook_small.jpgADOTAS – There’s nothing to get the tech media’s blood pumping on a Thursday morning like the promise of a Facebook event. Like pre-teen girls hearing about a local Justin Bieber show, cries of “OMG! Facebook news! OMG!” are resounding around the Internet as the company gave word that it would be hosting an invite-only press event next Monday in advance of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance on Tuesday at the Web 2.0 Summit.

Zuck must feel a bit more like Steve Jobs every time a release goes out. Don’t be surprised if he shows up on Monday in a black mock turtleneck (underneath his hoodie) and rocks a wispy beard and wire frames. I probably won’t sit in for the live video stream this time around (my press invite must have been lost in the mail) — I spent the last announcement trying not to stab my eardrums every time Zuck got up to speak.

The tech media is placing the speculation odds heavy on a revamp Facebook’s email system. Why? Because there’s an icon resembling an email thread on the press invite.

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Doesn’t that make perfect sense?

However, the last time the media went gaga before a Facebook announcement, they were so far off on the subject matter that even Zuck got a good chuckle. While the talk beforehand was about profile redesigns to resemble place pages and the removal of tabs on top of a profile (a note on my profile page keeps threatening to remove them any day now), the announcement was actually about the revamped Groups function and some surprisingly user-friendly improvements to privacy controls.

Still, I’m going to join the speculation bandwagon because an overhaul of the mailing system has been rumored about since the beginning of this year. So-called “Project Titan” would replace the social network’s lackluster messaging system with a fully functional webmail solution — FBmail, you could call it.

Facebook has long been building the hype, with COO Sheryl Sandberg (like many Facebookers, a former Googler) even telling the Nielsen 360 consumer conference that email wasn’t much longer for this digital world. No, Facebook sees a future where email and social network are one in the same (does this ring a Buzz to anybody?).

Still, the phrase “Gmail Killer” is already perched on the lips of several eminent tech commentators. As social media and email marketing have become increasingly linked, such a development would glue the two parties together — it’d be a serious boon for email marketers.

Then again, I was discussing why Google Buzz pretty much blew it with an industry exec yesterday and I was drawn back to the idea of online compartmentalization — I use Gmail for my email, Facebook for my social networking. All-in-one products, or Swiss Army Knife solutions, don’t seem to hold a lot of value in the social mediascape.

Of course, I also confessed that I’d been loading my music library onto my iPhone when I thought they’d have to pry my iPod from my cold dead hands. Perhaps it just takes time to get used to Swiss Army Knife-fication…

But the bigger problem with a Facebook mail system is simple — Facebook’s whole business plan is built on trust and people don’t trust Facebook. Zuck and crew have never earned it, especially as the company repeatedly rewrites its privacy policy so it can share more user data. It’s reminiscent of the ever-changing writing on the barn wall in “Animal Farm”….

There’s also the recent user ID debacle, in which Facebook was sending user IDs through apps to ad networks, which could in turn easily discover a users real name and possibly his or her friends. While I mentioned at the time it was more of a snafu than a privacy breach, it was symbolic of Facebook’s tendency to cut corners regarding privacy.

People actually buy into Google’s whole “Do no evil” mantra (maybe the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t as it’s launching a new investigation into Google Street View) and the search giant has done a pretty impressive job on the mail front — so much that companies big and small (including our little operation) use Google Apps to power business mail.

A Facebook email overhaul will be greatly appreciated by users — unless Facebook manages to muck up the privacy issues — and could be a great new channel for marketing. But a Gmail killer? The term skeptical doesn’t do my feelings justice.

1 COMMENT

  1. why would anyone want to switch from a safe and secure email platform like google mail to facebook which has become well known for exploiting user privacy. forget about emailing using facebook, i recommend quitting it altogether and joining a safer platform such as Diaspora or MyCube as soon as they release.

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