Two days from now, Facebook is speculated to release its new product – an Email service. A user-base of well over 500 million people is strong reason to believe that Facebook Mail will have a massive adoption rate unlike any other email service we have ever seen.
There are several reasons why Facebook’s mail program has potential to be a great offering for users. They know who you interact with on the social front and can customize email feeds to prioritize those that come from people closer to you. You won’t have to add your friends to your Facebook mail; they’ll already be imported from your Facebook profile. Given the majority of web-mails have search (mail+web) integrated into them, it’s safe to assume that Facebook Mail will be integrated with Microsoft Bing’s mail+web search. Apart from the common reasons for using web-based search, take the ability to search an inbox for pictures/videos/notes etc and have them published to Facebook at the click of a button. If implemented, this killer-feature will set Facebook apart from any other player on the email scene. Moreover, Facebook Mail is clearly the next step ahead of the two weeks old ‘See Friendship‘ feature that showed all interactions between two people on the site.
But will I switch from Gmail? No. Here’s why.
Privacy Facebook is notorious for selling users’ personal data to advertisers without their consent and consequently not a company that most would trust with the contents of their mail. Email conversations contain far more sensitive information than pictures or comments that are usually shared on social networks without much thought. I consider every keystroke typed into Facebook to be public information. ’Shared’ is the default. Or was the term ‘Broadcasted’?
Demographics Majority of Facebook users are between the age of 18-24 where as the largest users of email are between 25-55. The reason why this does not fly is because teens nowadays send less emails than before. They just share it on their favourite social network. Planning a party? Create a FB event. Got pictures to share? Post them on Facebook.
Work Will Facebook Mail be used for work? Facebook simply does not have the reputation to be taken seriously in a professional setting. It’s considered a distraction and a potential security threat and therefore banned in most work places. Moreover, professionals would prefer handing out a @gmail.com address rather than a @facebook.com or @Fb.com one due to the unserious impression of all things Facebook. Plus if Facebook Mail is indeed linked to Facebook profiles, then it it would be safe to assume that not many people would want their professional friends watching what happens done off-duty.
Would I want Facebook to go through my Facebook friends list, work an algorithm to figure out my friends and friends of friends – two degrees out and prioritize my work emails for me? No. My business leads, proposals, etc from ‘unfriended’ addresses would be lost under an avalanche of ‘Farmville’ notifications – a phenomena so bad, there’s an app for that!
Spam Speaking of spam, will Facebook Mail’s spam filter be able to match Gmail’s brilliant spam-fighting technology? Facebook’s 500 million social citizens will be able to work together towards a spam-free experience but can you remember the last time you got a single spam in your Gmail inbox? I can’t. This is one of the things that Facebook should keep Microsoft away from; Hotmail is spam heaven.
Conversations Gmail automatically groups all replies to an email creating a neat and continuous thread instead of having each mail appearing separately. This helps keep your mails organized and focuses your attention on the ‘Subject’ at hand instead of having to go through all the mails. Once used, it is very hard to let go of this efficient feature.
Google Labs Calendar, Tasks, Maps, Scheduling emails, Undo ‘Sent’ emails, Attachment detector (reminds you to add an attachment when you forget), voice chat, video, etc are few of the features (hundreds available) that I regularly use in Gmail. Apart from this, I can customize every aspect of my Gmail experience to suit my needs. Use “reply” instead of “reply to all” occassionally? Set ‘reply to all’ as default. Facebook Mail will have to offer all of these and more for influencing a switch.
However, those working with Google Docs integration with Gmail need not worry. Facebook and Microsoft could continue their love affair and offer the recently launched Docs.com as an ‘Office’ in the cloud.
That said, Facebook’s DNA lies in social. It’s a platform where you interact with friends and family and share media. If Facebook’s Mail is accepted by the masses, it should concentrate its efforts to build upon its core product – sharing. And be more interested in what people are doing in shorts and not in suits. Facebook’s Mail service will be welcomed by teenagers and their likes who will be able to retire their existing email services for Facebook Mail; it’s one less website for them to visit. But for the majority of people, Facebook is not someone they trust with information in their inbox.
P.S: Maybe, just maybe, Facebook Mail will look like this. (Best viewed when signed out of Facebook)