Facebook is launching an email service on Monday. While that’s only a rumor for now, I think it’s a well substantiated one and there is little doubt in my mind that Facebook mail is exactly what we are going to get at Monday’s event in San Francisco. Sadly, though, the meme that this could really be a “Gmail killer,” as the project is apparently internally known at Facebook, is already making its rounds in the tech blogosphere and won’t let up until Monday.
My guess is that the reality of Facebook mail will be far more banal. Facebook will give every user an @facebook.com address and a basic email service that will kill Gmail as much as Gmail killed Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail/Windows Live Mail.
So let’s get away from the whole “Gmail killer” idea (the tech blogosphere has always been obsessed with “xyz killers”). What matters is that this email service – if it really launches on Monday – shows how Facebook doesn’t just want to own our social network but how it also wants to be our messaging service. Groups were a step in this direction, Facebook chat was a step in this direction, as is bringing Facebook chat to Windows Live Messenger. Adding email to this is just the logical next step, but just as tagging a social network on to email didn’t make Google Buzz a Facebook killer, adding email to Facebook won’t kill Gmail.
It’s even hard to think how Facebook could actually make email better. Sure, this service will nicely integrate with the rest of the Facebook platform, but the great thing about email is that you can use it no matter what platform and server you and the people you write to are on.
Maybe Facebook could build a better Priority Inbox, but somehow I doubt that. It will surely also make it easy to email photos (Facebook is already the biggest photo service on the Internet). But it won’t get a lot of people to turn away from Gmail or the even more popular Yahoo and Windows Live email services. Email is extremely sticky. Most people never switch. It’s just too hard and almost never worth the effort. Professionals definitely won’t use it.
We should remember, though, that for some people, the idea of an @facebook.com email address actually sounds like a good idea. Those are not the people who leave critical comments on stories about Facebook mail today, though. Those are the people who will be surprised to hear about it on Monday and will leave barely readable comments on the Facebook blog, asking where to find new tips and trick for playing Farmville and how to write on their wall. That won’t make it a Gmail killer either, though.
Bonus: I got an email this morning from this blogger who discovered Facebook’s mail.facebook.com page. At first, I thought this would make for a nice scoop, but after actually looking at the site for 10 seconds, it quickly became clear that this was Facebook’s internal email. The site runs Microsoft Exchange and there is no way that Facebook would want to use Exchange for powering 500 million email accounts even if Microsoft is going to partner with Facebook and integrate its Office web apps into the new service. Of course, this story still found its way into the tech blogosphere in the form of a Friday afternoon linkbait post on TechCrunch that some actually took at face value. Sigh…