Facebook email: How your email went social

Tom Eldridge Senior Digital Strategist / Planner, G2

Posted on November 14th 2010

2844658867 ce91e5c0f2 Facebook email: How your email went social


There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.
- Niccolo Machiavelli

Facebook’s announcement of its own email system, presents an interesting proposition for its users, challenges for it’s competitors and a paradigm shift in how we use email in future. In this post I will try and evaluate the impact of Facebook email on each area.


The key to the success of Facebook email is how integrated it will be with it’s core services. Rather than having a standalone email system such as gmail, or hotmail the proposition should offer an integrated experience. I’m thinking we could see a more advanced version of Xobni’s outlook plugin when you log into your facebook account.

People in or out of our facebook circle of friends would instantly have their Facebook profile associated to their email address. Their social status, their checkins, their interests will be immediately  accessible whenever you send or receive an email.

Instead of faceless email addresses you have an viable engagement opportunity with someone you may or may not know.

The inevitable issue of privacy control will rear it’s head, and Facebook will have to carefully balance social engagement with a users privacy in what they wish to share or not share.


Facebook is now pitching itself directly in competition with Google, Yahoo, and Hotmail.

Here’s some facts on the number of email accounts each service has:

  1. Hotmail – 364 million
  2. Yahoo –  303 million
  3. Gmail – 170 million

Factor in that Facebook has 500 million active users, even if a percentage of them were to take up a Facebook email account that could spell considerable trouble for the competition.

Google’s email offering has been predicated on the basis of what keyword information it can obtain from a users emails in exchange for a ‘free’ email service. I say free because in effect Google gets the better deal in knowing what the users interests are and then refining it’s keyword advertising model.

Now with Facebook email offering not only free email but also a viable engagement opportunity to connect with friends, this could harm not only Google’s business model but also its proposed attempts at putting forward it’s own social media ecosystem. (Please no mention of Google Wave).

The Email Paradigm Shift

Email have tended to exist as standalone systems. As a result email compared with other mediums has barely evolved. There are to my mind three key phases in that evolution:

  1. Application or System Based – e.g. Outlook for Microsoft, or Mail for Mac OSx
  2. Browser or mobile Based – Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo – these are system agnostic
  3. Social media Based – integration with social media channels

It’s clear that Facebook is on the cusp of dragging us into this 3rd phase in the evolution of email.


Facebook decision to branch into offering an email service gives an indication as to how serious it wants to engage in every aspect of our digital lives and to monetize that information. The key to the success of this offering, is how closely integrated with it’s core service and balance that with the appropriate level of privacy controls that protect the user.

Image courtesy of Loving Earth (Flickr)


Tom Eldridge

Senior Digital Strategist / Planner, G2

digital node, working in ad land as a strategist/planner/weaver of digital dreams, raconteur, coffee snob, Maxi Bon ice cream fan and dad of two
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Posted on November 15th 2010 at 3:06AM

What is the source of your Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail user numbers? The numbers have been widely debated. Loren

Avi Kaye
Posted on November 15th 2010 at 6:41AM

Interesting post, but from what I head (and tomorrow we'll know better), the Facebook email is still internal. People who aren't on Facebook won't be accessible, and I don't know how accessible people who aren't in your network are going to be.

If this is correct, then sorry, but many people- certainly from a business perspective  - won't leave their email client, as they need to contact everybody, everywhere, not dependent on the social network they are or are not in at the moment.

Posted on November 15th 2010 at 10:29AM

Hi Avi,

Pending the announcement later today, I would envisage Facebook email being a closed system. But with 500 million active users the definition of a 'closed system' could be open to interpretation.


Posted on November 15th 2010 at 8:57PM

Hi Loren,

I got the number of email accounts from Gizmodo. Personally, I would take the figures with a pinch of salt however. The point I was making is that with such a large user base, by adding an email service to it's core services Facebook poses a very real threat to the likes of Yahoo, Hotmail, and Google's gmail.  

Posted on November 18th 2010 at 1:09AM

Facebook email will be useful especially for those who use Facebook all the time and who have almost all of their contacts there.  It also helps filter emails coming from the network, separating it from the other important emails you receive.

Jon Bernstein
Posted on November 18th 2010 at 4:46PM

How has email not already been social before this?  I understand that having email integrated into a dedicated social networking site is a fairly new (but not particularly revolutionary) development, but email - and really, writing letters - has always been very social, by definition. 

Email already presented a "viable engagement opportunity" with friends. Yes, you can see what they are posting on Facebook more quickly when the email service is integrated into Facebook but it's not like you really need to have a friend's Facebook account at hand to knowwhat their interests are.

Posted on November 19th 2010 at 5:34PM

Hi Jon,

A provocative blog title on my part and I can't disagree with your point that email is inherently social.

From my perspective the integration of email is another hook for Facebook to build on it's existing user base. Will it initiate new forms of communicating - possibly. Will it help strengthen existing ties within your circle of friends - unlikely.

It will simply be another instrument to express a users thoughts and emotions.

Good response though!


Posted on November 18th 2010 at 5:23PM

My concern is this: When a social media tool gets as big as Facebook, we are dealing with an organization that is, as one person put it, the 4th largest country in the world. The bigger you are, the higher your risk for attacks. And Facebook has not responded quickly enough to fend off or pro-actively prevent those attacks. One site said that there were only 500 engineers working at Facebook. That's one engineer for every MILLION users. And that ain't enough. Even the US has 545 people in Congress running a country of 300 million, and each of the 50 states have hundreds more. I worry that putting all my eggs in either the Google or Facebook basket could have dire and unintended consequences. If either or both of them implode for some reason, all communications can be lost. If either or both are seriously hacked or compromised, (as has happened numerous times with Facebook this year) then all personal data is vulnerable. While I understand that there are no secrets in cyberspace, at least by separating our email from our social media we can make the bad guys take two extra steps to attack us.

My problem with all this breathless acceptance of combining our entire life online is this: we are not even a decade into social media. We don't yet understand the far-reaching unintended consequences of putting our lives out there forever and ever. Change and forward movement are good. But so is erring on the side of caution. I have deactivated my facebook account and probably will not reactivate. I simply don't trust it. I'll find other ways to get around.

Posted on November 19th 2010 at 5:50PM

Great reply Beth,

I do feel we are entering unknown territory as to the good or bad impacts of social media. Inevitably the lines between our public and private lives have become blurred, with which it will be hard to reverse.

Social eco-systems such as Facebook should not discount traditional forms of communication . Any good social eco-system should be an enabler, rather than a direct replacement for traditional means of communication.