According to Mike Arrington, Facebook is preparing to roll out its own email client, code named “Titan”. We’ve suggested to Facebook in the past that they roll out an email client as they have an opportunity to redefine the product. Additionally, Paul Bucheit, the lead developer of Gmail, is now an employee of Facebook which means he may have another opportunity to redefine the email experience (update: Paul Bucheit denies that he will be creating an email app at Facebook).
The secret email project was not under development until recently, as we had spoken with a number of Facebook employees at least a couple years back who suggested there was nothing in the works (although they could have simply been unaware or trying to hide it). As Mark Zuckerberg announced at last night’s birthday celebration, Facebook has a number of products that are in the midst of being rolled out.
If Arrington’s sources are correct, one of those products may very well be an email product. So what sort of benefits would a Facebook email product have? We will speculate about some of the features that we hope to see in the new product.
Automatic Filtering By Strength Of Connection
One of the greatest opportunities Facebook has is to identify the strength of our various relationships. Without an email client, Facebook was fundamentally at a disadvantage to Google and Yahoo when it came to monitoring individuals’ communications. While users like to communicate via Facebook’s messaging system, there is still a large number of users which manage most of their communication through email.
For those individuals, determining how strong a relationship is cannot necessarily be determined by the number of times they click on someone’s profile. Instead, Facebook needs to know how often users are communicating with each other completely. Through developing the most efficient digital communication tools, Facebook can continue to improve their ability to monitor the strength of our relationships.
This information can be used to accomplish numerous things, most importantly: optimizing our communication. Facebook can determine what messages matter most to us and cut through a lot of the clutter. While we are still not at a point where Facebook has completely determined how strong our real-world connections are, launching an email service brings the company one step closer to that point.
Once that’s complete, Facebook can automatically filter out information which is most likely not related to us, based on who it’s coming from. If that person is not closely related to you, the messages will be of decreased focus.
While Facebook already has enabled developers to add applications to inbox messages, there is still no way of adding applications to any email clients as an attachment. Rather than receiving an email message with an image, imagine receiving an application attachment which plays a song or displays an interactive game, without even having to download the object.
Facebook’s inbox already enables this, however it’s well know Facebook’s existing messaging platform has numerous weaknesses. By extending the attachment feature to email, Facebook will immediately have a competitive advantage over other email clients. As is the case with other platforms (phones, social networks, etc), which email we use may eventually be determined by the applications available to that email client.
Friend List Filtering
As we previously mentioned, Facebook should be able to optimize your messages based on the strength of your connection with someone, however they should also have friend list filters built into their system. Being able to grab all emails based on your affiliation group is extremely useful. Enabling this sort of functionality would also encourage users to take advantage of friend lists (something Facebook currently views as a “power user” feature).
Email Will Tell You How You Are Connected
Did you just receive a message from someone who was perceived as a random connection? While they can tell you how they know you, what if your inbox immediately told you how you were connected? Facebook now has over 400 million users and continues to grow rapidly, which means they have the ability to tell you how you are connected to a large percentage of the global internet population (which is currently around 1.7 billion users).
As Facebook grows to become the defacto communication tool on the web, it will be important to understand how you are connected to someone and be able to immediately view mini-profiles of those individuals. Imagine mousing over a user’s email address or name and instantly being able to see who they are, not just their email address.
Have greater context to the communications we have is extremely important and we can only hope Facebook will surface this type of data to users of their new email client.
Expansion Beyond 5,000 Contacts
Finally, we’d like to see Facebook expand their service beyond 5,000 “friends”. While it’s true that our immediate circle is limited in size, some individuals must keep in communication with numerous individuals. Being able to have at least some form of limited connection to the people who you exchange emails with is important.
While Facebook’s email product is still a rumor, we are hoping that the company launches the service in the near future. In our view, Facebook has the opportunity to significantly improve (if not revolutionize) the email experience. While we can already envision tons of privacy issues related to a Facebook email product (who’s profile information can you view within your emails, etc), we have been anticipating Facebook Mail (FMail?) since early on. What features would you like to see in a Facebook email product?