“It’s not email.”
That was the word from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg yesterday as he unveiled the social network’s “Modern Messaging System”. The day before, the tech press was labeling the new Facebook feature as an “email killer” or a “Gmail killer.” But Zuckerberg didn’t want get anywhere near “email.”
Which begs the question, Is email now considered uncool?
The messaging system Facebook developed does go beyond what email encapsulates today. It combines instant messaging, chat, SMS and email messaging in one interface and keeps a streamlined history of communication between users. Facebook is pushing the concept of chronicling conversations rather than simply delivering a message. (Mashable has a nice roundup on the feature here.) The concept may sound familiar. Google had a similar idea with its now abandoned Wave product. And, yeah, Google fled from the word email, too.
Part of the reason Facebook and Google have avoided labeling their re-tooled platforms as email is because it evokes a kind of stodgy, two-dimensional method of communication.
I spoke with Jim Ducharme, editor of The Email Guide, who said email comes off as formal, especially among younger generations. “Email carries a lot of baggage with it because we didn’t think out of the mailbox for a change,” Duchmare wrote on his blog.
Multiple times, Zuckerberg said Facebook wasn’t replacing email; that email would always serve a purpose. Of course, that’s a backhanded compliment, like saying there’s still charm to the tape deck. But whether Facebook calls it email or not, they are trying to siphon off a chunk of the dollars that pour into email marketing today. Facebook wants to create a conversation channel and not a mail-delivery system – not using the word email is largely a cosmetic decision.
What does this mean for someone who depends on email marketing? The core job won’t change, but there might be some tools added to the toolbox as various channels are aggregated on a single platform. Clearly, when a site with 500 million fans experiments, you can’t just ignore it. But whether Facebook’s platform takes flight depends on whether they can make a compelling use experience, and tangible results for marketers.
The short version: Zuckerberg is right. Facebook is not going to kill email. If they succeed they’ll simply enhance it. They’re not reinventing the wheel, just rotating the tires.