There have been various mentions in the blogosphere regarding the question “Is Facebook killing email?” Based on the stats we know that it isn’t… yet. However, after breaking down the problem email sets out to solve, we can see the potential of Facebook as a communication medium.
In the web’s early years many of the constructs were web based interpretations of real world components, mail->email, commerce->ecommerce. Each migrant construct ferried over a set of problems similar to those that exist in the “real world.” In the case of email, junk mail persists both mediums To solve this problem we’ve enlisted junk mail algorithms, government regulation, and various other hacks to compensate with this failed model. At the end of the day, these approaches are just hacks; duct tape to keep this mode of communication together. Despite the increasing sophistication of these hacks, they are inevitably flawed.
Facebook presents us with an alternative mode of communication that at first glance may seem underwhelming, but the power and ubiquity of Facebook’s OpenGraph and user base quickly dismisses this understatement. Facebook provides us with a network of nodes that ties our online identity to various third parties. These third parties can be friends, family members, restaurants, other applications, games, music, videos, and the list goes on. Each node is confirmed by us and cannot be effectively infiltrated. If a node gets corrupted by illegitimacy it can be removed manually by the user, but is often removed automagically by Facebook’s watchdog algorithms/moderators. The only sources of information that can reach out to us on Facebook are those that we have authenticated (unless you have enabled your @facebook.com email address which can be removed or changed at any time). Each and every message/notification can quickly be tracked to it’s source. If the source becomes unpleasant or spammy, we can sever the tie with a simple click. Update: According to Microsoft 97% of email is spam. Symantec suggests this number is closer to 70%. How much of your Facebook inbox is spam?
Facebook has been built with authenticity in mind since it’s inception in 2004. The problem with email is that it lacks the ability for users to police the nodes. The best we can do is unsubscribe from email lists, but this is not a catch all method of protection. In fact, many spammers use this as a way to find active email addresses. Clever eh?
Facebook may or may not kill email, but for the sake of my inbox I sure hope it does. The potential is there, it’s all about execution.