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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Facebook may take over email

Facebook may be on the verge of offering email to the 500 million members of its social-networking site, making it the largest email service on the planet.

More significantly, the offering could lead to a fundamental transformation of email. Yahoo, Google and Microsoft are already scrambling to retool their email services to build them more around people’s social connections. Facebook would have a tremendous advantage, because it owns a vast trove of data about people’s relationships and would find it easier to graft email onto its existing social services, such as photo-sharing.

If it is announced, a Facebook email service would allow its more than 500 million members to communicate with anyone inside or outside the walls of the social network. If they use it, Facebook would leapfrog the 361 million global users of Windows Live Hotmail, Yahoo Mail’s 273 million users and Gmail’s 193 million users, according to comScore.

However, a Facebook email service would be most remarkable not for the size of its network, but for how it could use its web of social connections to transform one of the oldest — and perhaps still the most important — functions of the Internet.

“”There is a huge opportunity for these guys to fundamentally change the nature of email,”” said Matt Cain, an analyst for the research firm Gartner who expects Facebook to unveil an external email service Monday.

Imagine, Cain said, a Facebook system that could prioritize mail from any external source based on the closeness of your relationship to the sender, or that allows you to easily flip a one-to-one email exchange into a conversation with a group of friends.

Facebook now offers an internal message service that is less functional than most Web-based email, and only allows members to communicate with other Facebook accounts. But Facebook may hope to use a new external email service to capture even more adherents, said Augie Ray, senior analyst for social computing for Forrester Research. Forrester says that while about 90 percent of U.S. adults check email regularly, only 59 percent use social networking tools such as Facebook or Twitter.

By adding email to the Internet’s most popular photo-sharing service, smartphone location-sharing service and social gaming site, Facebook would make an even stronger claim as a hub of personal communications, placing “”Facebook as much into competition with AT&T as it is now with Google,”” Ray said.

Google and Yahoo are working to make email more reflective of people’s personal connections by adding social-networking features to existing email services. Google had disastrous results when it based its Google Buzz social-networking service on people’s Gmail contacts, running into a privacy Waterloo when it automatically imported people into the service. Yahoo, the most popular U.S. email provider, recently launched a new version of Mail that allows users to broadcast their status on both Twitter and Facebook — just as if they were actually on those sites.

Unhappy with Facebook’s unwillingness to let people export their contacts from Facebook into a service like Gmail, Google last week blocked Facebook from allowing users to import their Google contacts directly into the social network.

Given Gmail’s momentum, a Facebook email service “”puts tremendous pressure on Google,”” Cain said. “”Gmail is the place to be, and all of sudden, in one fell swoop, Facebook can enable email for 500 million users, and I would suspect there is a huge overlap.””

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