Friday, November 26, 2010

Facebook eMail: Evolution or Revolution

It was in 1998 during my post-graduation that I opened my first email account with Hotmail.com. That was also the first time I had ever experienced Internet. My excitement soon turned into great depression.What was the point in having an email id when I didn't have anyone to mail to!

People who had an email id were all my classmates whom I met everyday. I was communicating with them daily. Even if I wanted to write an email what would I write?

Slowly, things changed. I found people whom I could mail. But the real use of email started only when I got into a job. Then, I opened a new account. Again it was a Hotmail id. Little later, I moved to Yahoo! Now, those days Yahoo! was very popular because one could also chat. Yahoo! Chat Room was a great place if you wanted to find a date. I tell you, they were a craze! 

Interestingly, now I had two ids each with Hotmail and Yahoo!.

See how beautifully the economic principles work. During the early 2000, there were far too many email service providers. And when there is too much of supply, the customer always has an advantage. There was this benevolent email service provider called - chequemail. No not check-mail, it's cheque-mail. Now, this service provider wanted to share the money made in advertising with its subscriber base. Wow! Yes, I did jump. Voila, I did receive a cheque for Rs. 50, once. Then? Then the service provider closed down, much to my disappointment. Good things don't last too long, pretty much like the romance in marriage!

Then, I changed to USA.Net. I liked it. But as luck would have it, that too closed. Actually, the free service closed. That was the indication of the dot com burst, maybe. Reluctantly, I reverted to Hotmail and Yahoo! Of course, I should mention that intermittently I also tried various other service providers, too. I can't figure out the rational but that's what it was. 

And then Gmail happened. Google as a brand had become very desirable. With a tactic of invite-only launch, Google further heightened the desire value. I remember begging for an invite from couple of gatekeepers. Actually, Gmail from usage and aesthetics perspective is nowhere close to the others. But then the charm and desire was high. In fact, Gmail didn't even have a chat software at the time of launch. Now, that is the brand pull.

Today, an email id is not only your key to mails and chat, it also gives you access to other services that service provider may have. One id with Google is good for you to access Blog, Orkut, Calendar, Reader, Finance...

Now, here comes Facebook with email service. Except for the fact that it talks of a concept of getting all communication that we do confluence at one point, I didn't understand much. It is proclaimed that it would change the way we communicate. I guess usage may change my opinion, but for now it looks hazy. But then when I was reading about Facebook's move, I somehow was reminded about Google Wave! Not sure why, but that is how it felt. While Wave itself failed, I do think if marketed and packaged well, Wave could be the next Official Communication tool. In fact, it could be the future of Social Networks!

One of the reasons why Wave probably failed was because it was duplicating what Gmail was already offering. Wave was chat and email mixed at the very core. It, in fact, could have been the true Gmail-killer. But then it was a separate offering requiring a separate id and log-in. It certainly was a pain using it. But can you imagine if your current Gmail behaved like Wave! I certainly would have loved it.

That leads me to important email behavior. We have and probably will continue to have two sets of email communications - personal and professional. I am already panicking. Most offices block Facebook, in which case I may find it more difficult to access personal mails. But that leads me to wonder whether convergence of email with social network is necessary? Conceptually, it feels as if it would make life easy. No need to log in into more than one window. But then, in the technology world there are two distinct factors to be considered:
  1. Technologies that enable change
  2. Consumers move or remain inert (Wave being a classic example of consumer inertia) 
Going by my own behavior, while I do use the messaging tool in Facebook, it is not my primary or for that matter preferred email service. But as Master Oogway in Kung Fu Panda says future is a mystery. Honestly, I don't think Ray Tomlinson would not have fathomed how email would grow and become an integral part of our lives. Then, who am I to risk a guess? But I do think Google had or still has a chance to revolutionize email while Facebook is evolutionizing Social Networks.
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