What Ever Happened To Facebook's Email 'Killer?'

Quick quiz: What was “Project Titan?” Doesn’t ring a bell? Well, about a year ago, the blogosphere was all abuzz in anticipation for it. Still don’t remember? That was the code name for Facebook’s “Next Generation Messaging” system — the supposed Gmail, or even email killer.

Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement back on November 15, 2010 was the source of great speculation. Well, now a year has passed, and the impact of this huge initiative that had Facebook dedicate more engineers than any other project has been little to none. Both from a consumer and a marketing perspective. So what happened?

From a consumer perspective, it appears that essentially no one is using their Facebook email address. Since my company, Emailvision, delivers millions of emails on behalf of our clients, I was able to analyze them to see how many of those went to @facebook.com addresses.

It was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack! Out of more than 3 million emails, I found that less than .0015 percent of all emails were delivered to @facebook.com addresses.

We can give a bit of leeway for the duration of the invite and rollout process, but a year is long enough to safely say that if the service was going to hit critical mass, there’d be much greater uptake by now.

For the marketing community, the big question back in November 2010 was whether or not this new unified messaging system have a negative impact on email marketing, which at that point had one of the highest return on investment for marketers.

The perceived threat from Facebook email was the “social inbox,” which would divide incoming mail according to the user’s social connections, likely categorizing opt-in newsletters and other marketing messages as junk. With such limited adoption, this hasn’t come to pass.

The biggest reason that “Fmail” hasn’t taken off is simply that the user experience is very poor for managing email.

While the idea of having seamless integration of all your messages from different platforms and accounts seems alluring, if you can’t read, review, sort, filter, organize or follow up properly, then what’s the use?

Even the default view for reading email is not great, as formatting is removed from text and images are stripped.

Facebook and social networks have a clear role to play in our digital lives and I’m a strong advocate of using both social media and email to their best and together.

Ultimately, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail and the less known email clients are miles ahead of the Facebook email experience. Even the message capability in LinkedIn is better than that of Facebook.

I might go as far as to say even Lotus Notes can do email better. And these providers are making changes that require a shift in many email marketers’ strategies.

With the introduction of “intelligent inbox” features, which automatically sort and filter emails to reflect what is most likely to be important to the reader, there is a real need for email marketers to ensure their communications well targeted and highly relevant.

How about you: What’s your experience been?

Guest writer Tim Watson oversees U.K. operations at Emailvision.

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