Would Facebook + Email = Gmail + Google Me? [NetworkEffect]

12 Nov

Facebook this Monday is reportedly set to announce a “full-fledged webmail client” with integration of Microsoft Office Web Apps at a press event the company is holding in San Francisco.

As displayed by its policy of declining to give Google a way to extract user email addresses–which Google called it out on last week–Facebook is clearly worried about Google extending its excellent Gmail product with a rocket booster of emails imported from Facebook for a competing social tool. The timing of all this is coming to a head as the companies seek to release products before the end of the year.

So, is a social network that adds email better or worse than an email service that adds social?

Put another way, if you had to give up your Facebook or Gmail, which would go first?

An email service from Facebook would almost certainly have novel social features and the company’s trademark opt-out viral hooks. The Facebook emails will supposedly include addresses (and probably be the unique usernames that people have set up through Facebook’s vanity URL program). They would also be integrated into other Facebook products along with Office.

Meanwhile, a social product from Google, if done well, is one of the only things that could knock the young Facebook out of its dominance in the category. So many people today already depend on Google (you may have heard of its search product) and trust its brand.

Will Facebook email have Gmail’s hallmark feature, conversation threading? Will some young people who only use Facebook and texting for communication even notice a difference? Will Facebook finally release a better calendaring tool alongside email? We’ll let you know as soon as we find out.

By the way, this comment from Facebook platform tech lead Mike Vernal explaining why Facebook doesn’t want to export email addresses to Google (even though it already sends them to Yahoo and Microsoft) looks a bit different four days later:

Email is different from social networking because in an email application, each person maintains and owns their own address book, whereas in a social network your friends maintain their information and you just maintain a list of friends. Because of this, we think it makes sense for email applications to export email addresses and for social networks to export friend lists.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.