Facebook's email aimed at being all-inclusive

Facebook displayed on a laptop screen.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: The company that made telling you about new emails famous...

You've got mail!

...is trying to get back in the game. AOL launched a new email product over the weekend. Unfortunately for them, admitting you have an AOL email address isn't all that far from saying you still use a modem and a dial-up internet connection. Which is why AOL's share of the email market is fading fast.

On the contrary, the real email news of the day is more social. Facebook -- with its 500 million users -- rolled out a new messaging platform today. We've got Marketplace's Steve Henn on the line with more. Hey Steve.

Steve Henn: Hey.

RYSSDAL: So this thing Facebook rolled out today, this communications suite, I suppose. Tell us about it -- what is it?

HENN: Well, basically they decided that with text messages, IM, email, Facebook messaging, that folks were spending a lot of time keeping track of how their friends actually interacted online, and then trying to send messages to their friends, and trying to remember who they talk to. And they wanted to make that all simpler and easier. So this is how Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, describes the system.

Mark Zuckerberg: We want to make it so it's super simple. You have a conversation with a person or with a group of people, you have one conversation with a group or that person. And all your IMs, messages, emails, SMSes, go into that; you have one history and you can kind of go through it forever. That's going to be really cool.

RYSSDAL: So my reaction today when I heard about this Steve, it was, 'Yeah, Facebook has emails. So what?' But then it occurred to me that it's probably not about people like me, right?

HENN: No, it's absolutely not. It's not about me, either. When Zuckerberg first introduced this, he did it by talking to high school students about they communicate, how they send each other messages online. And he realized that they just didn't use email at all, and the reason that they didn't was it was too slow, which you know, kind of blew his mind because it's instantaneous. What he decided they meant by that was there was just too much stuff involved in sending an email: you need a subject line, you needed an email address. And he wanted to build email into something that's a lot more like instant messaging; so you click on someone's name, you write them a message, it pops up in their inbox no matter what kind of inbox they happen to be using.

RYSSDAL: Make the business case for me Steve. This is really all about getting people to stay on Facebook longer, right?

HENN: Yeah, absolutely. It's also about them building a more accurate social graph -- that's their map of who your friends are and what they like and what you like. Right now, if you communicate with some people on email and some people on text message and some people on Facebook, they're only capturing a little sliver of your social life. They want it all.

RYSSDAL: That brings up, actually, a joke I heard this morning. The guy who was telling the joke said, 'It's going to be just like GMail, except everyone's going to be able to see your inbox.' I mean, Facebook has some credibility and some privacy issues.

HENN: Well yeah. And I think that's going to be a big hurdle for them in getting people to switch from GMail or Yahoo! to Facebook.com as an email address. I think it's kind of interesting the way they're going about it. They're not rolling this out for everybody right now, and I don't think it's because technologically they're not ready. What they're doing instead though is to send out invites. And I think they want to make a Facebook email address a bit of a status symbol; you have to be invited to join, and then you have invite your friends to join. And they're betting that this will become a viral social marketing hit. Who better to place that bet than Facebook?

RYSSDAL: Marketplace's Steve Henn on the Facebook announcement today. Thanks Steve.

HENN: Sure thing.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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