Amadeus Consulting Discusses the Technology Perspective on Facebook Social Inbox

What Facebook Social Inbox Means For Email

Facebook announced this week that it will be launching its own "not email" email service to mixed reviews. This will be slowly rolled out over the next few months, so nobody outside the company has been able to play with it yet.

Facebook users, technology writers, business analysts, social media experts and many others have voiced very mixed reviews on the service. Some have called it a "Google Killer," while others predict that it will be dead on arrival.

As a software consulting company who develops a lot of online software and applications, we receive frequent inquiries regarding major changes of this nature. So we've assembled a good mix of information on the subject, although we encourage you to also look at Facebook's official announcement.


Users are provided with an email address.
Seamless Messaging allows you to be reached easily anywhere at any time, either through email, SMS, or IM. It also allows you to type a message and then choose which method to send it: Email, IM, or SMS.
Conversations are then saved in one place in one long stream, much like IM or SMS histories. This saves your conversations indefinitely (unless you manually delete them) and allows you to go back through them all at once, rather than searching through them separately.
Social filtering gives preferential access to your friends. This divides all messages into three categories: Messages, Other, and Spam. The message box is populated with your communications from friends, the other box is for messages from everything else – such as newsletters you subscribe to or non-friends—, and the spam box is for spam.


Security and Privacy

One concern revolves around Facebook's very poor track record of securing privacy and protecting users' data.

The fact that Facebook will store this type of data permanently and include it into its social graph is definitely a useful feature for some, but also poses an even greater risk of exposing more personal information. Currently this will be an opt-in service, so it won't impact everyone, but it could have large implications for those that use the service.

Another related issue is that the addresses are automatically assigned to each account, which makes them very easy to guess (your-account-name[@], assuming you have a unique name), so many market research companies will essentially start out with an email address for a vast majority of users' emails (prepare your spam filter!)

Adoption Rate and Success

In some ways, this is very similar to Google's "email killer" product Google Wave which was launched last year and died early this year (actually, it's not dead, but Google has officially abandoned it). Facebook pretty much recreates some major features of Wave, namely that it combines multiple forms of communication into a unified stream, although some major distinctions still occur.

Also, Facebook automatically filters emails and messages into the priority messages box if you are friends with them, but it filters this based on Facebook connections, not real-life connections. This means that if a friend sends you an email from a work address, or a non-Facebook address, and Facebook doesn't have that email address registered, then there is no way to let the system know that it is actually from your friend, and it will be placed into the "other" or "spam" box.

However, since this integrates rather seamlessly into the current messaging system, it is likely to become very popular very quickly.

Market Share

In many ways an email address is our online identity. We use it to log into websites, as a hub for our communications, print it on our business cards, and are very dependent on it for our social connections. This makes people generally very hesitant to give up on a current email in preference for another system, even if it is clearly better.

As Facebook even says, this will not be a "Gmail killer." At least not immediately.

Measuring the popularity and market share of email providers can be challenging since raw subscription/account numbers do not necessarily reflect the number of individuals using each service. For more accurate figures on the actual numbers and uses of each service, we have relied on to measure unique monthly visits in the US. There are some faults with this method, namely it only shows a total number of people who visit the site, not how frequently each individual uses the service.

Even so, data shows that Yahoo! still serves the most unique visitors, at 44%. Hotmail is second with 30%, and Gmail is third with 15% of the total. For Facebook to become the largest email provider, only 20% of Facebook's current users need to adopt the service.

Assuming a 20% adoption rate by Facebook's current user base, Facebook would become the largest email provider with 37% of the total. Yahoo! would be reduced to a 28% share, Hotmail to 19%, and Gmail to 10%.

So in other words, this could be a major disruption to all current email providers, not just Gmail. The biggest question (and hardest to measure qualitatively) will be how much time people spend on the service, and how much they rely on the service for communication.

Rich Internet Application Potentials

One question that has not been answered is whether there will be integration access that would allow ambitious web app developers, like us, to create apps that can incorporate the messaging service. Already, we know that Microsoft® has provided tools that will give users the ability to instantly open Office® documents (Word®, Excel®, etc) without needing an app or plug-in, so it will be interesting to see what other tools Facebook will allow into the service.