Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

Email Sucks! How Facebook email can fix that.

Update: I’ve added my thoughts on a perfectly timed post from Steve Gillmor on the same topic. See end of this post.

Note to self: Never go to bed on an unpublished blog post, esp. one that I was tremendously excited about. Cos, when you wake up you realize someone has written up an awesome piece on those ideas. Well, I did think Gizmodo articulated very well, how FB could create your ultimate priority inbox. After the jump, my original post with my thoughts.

There has been a ton of twitter chatter on Facebook’s looming launch of an email system or a revamp of their messenger system. Of course, there are rumors of their partnering with Microsoft to incorporate Outlook email as the foundation for this email.

Facebook’s Priority Inbox will beat Gmail’s lame Priority Inbox

Despite its best intentions, Gmail’s priority inbox is still a melange of mistakes that I’ve to keep training and fact is it never learns, cos it really does NOT know the people I’m communicating with. Instead the algorithm does a bad interpretation (I’m guessing) based on frequency, senders, etc. And, that’s the problem with email. The senders range from people we know, trust to the spammer next door.

Enter Facebook’s social graph.

Since Gizmodo, articulated this so well, here’s Jesus Diaz’s speculation about Priority Inbox.

Moreover, it’s not only about separating what is important and what is not. Their data tracking and analysis could allow them to do many other things. For example, they just have to analyze who is tagging you in photos, who is with you in those photos, to know who are your real friends, and categorize mail accordingly. They can automatically classify mail from the person who just became your fiance or lower the priority of that ex who keeps mailing you. The possibilities of using your social interactions to enhance the mail experience are endless.

“People tagging” emails will kill the suckiness of group emails

In addition, I think Facebook could use their secret weapon – tagging – to help reduce noise and clutter in your email as well. They’ve  used tagging most famously in photos, but also notes, groups, status updates and places to spread “targeted virality”. The art of tagging offers a targeted high to the individuals who then come back to the site to use it more. The red alert sign on the top left hand corner probably elicits a pavlovian response from its users by now. Y’know it does.

This is something I aggressively requested from Tweetie (before they were Twitter, nearly 18 months ago) but still notifications is not a well thought out twitter mechanism. But on Facebook, imagine, if you could tag just the friends you wanted to respond to an email even when you send a group email. That way the red alert symbol in the top left hand corner will constantly remind you when you actually have priority emails from folks in your social graph or could feed into the social algorithm that prioritizes your email.

I’m sure there’s so much more FB could do to make emails less sucky, but this would be a start. [Would love to hear from you how you think FB email will change email? Comment away!]


Updated: I just stumbled upon a perfectly timed TechCrunch post from Steve Gillmor on this same topic:

What happens now is that these stream objects are lit up with transactional properties. Code gets run based on incoming events, pulling it out of the teeming inbox before we see it and converted into actions predetermined by our inference engines and workflow rules. This is not AI or smart computing; it’s harvesting social signals in the context of realtime economics. If Facebook reinvents email by submerging it in the stream, they’ll have something to announce.

This reminds me of a couple of things, the notifications do mean that your Facebook stream will now contain messages from your FBmail Inbox. But, I do think these notifications could be far more targeted, valuable and productive given hints you give Facebook on your usage of their different social apps (photos, etc.) as well as explicit permission you give it through tagging.

Techmeme also just picked up the thread.

Yes / No? You don’t think this will be the case. Discuss in the comments section or @mariosundar me.

Filed under: Facebook

6 Responses

  1. Edan Maor says:

    Email overload is a problem, but more a problem for serious computer users than for “average people”.

    Email “sucks” because of completely different reasons for “regular” users, which is why Facebook Messages have become the default way most people talk to their friends and family.

    The problem for Facebook is that for more “serious” uses, people still choose email. Say I wanted to email Robert Scoble, I wouldn’t look up his profile and message him – I’d use email. Despite the fact that it would probably be *easier* to find his Facebook profile than to find his email address (that’s even more the case for people with less of a web presence.)

    I wrote a bit more on this topic on my blog, by the way, if you’re interested, check it out: http://www.loopycode.com/facebook-is-killing-email/

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  2. [...] is an email system that might go up against Gmail and other Web mail services. Other folks are not so sure a head-on assault on standard Web mail is a great idea, or even a likely one. Facebook clearly has [...]

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  3. Muskie says:

    I’m a bit surprised by all the excitement around this. First of all I like email. You can tell the age of someone by whether they ask you to email them, text them, or some new form of communication (video chat maybe?). I have a good email client which sorts and filters my email. I still get too much spam, but I try to save my email and I much prefer checking my email on my MacBook then using a web client.

    When my sister sends me a message through Facebook I always wonder why she just doesn’t email me? I always have my email client running, I rarely have Facebook open.

    Then there is the whole privacy thing or branding… What is better for branding robert@scoble.com or therealrobertscoble@fmail.com? GMail is definitely classier and more professional than hotmail but I still prefer a real domain rather than a disposable email address.

    I also recall when you bought a Mac you got a free email address. Then that email address became not free. All the brand equity and contacts I’d developed I had to tell I was dropping my @mac.com email address as I didn’t want to pay 100 dollars so I just registered a domain and get email through that.

    Putting all this trust in a corporate entity especially when they could turn around start charging for some of the features that were formerly free. Then there is various privacy and security issues. Facebook becomes the biggest target to hackers and scam artists.

    There are a lot of issues I have with switching to Facebook for my primary email…

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    • Mario Sundar says:

      Given what they really launched, it seems more like a real time communication medium that aims to get more of their users mobile and synthesize those in a stream format on their site.

      Smart.

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  4. Chris Harges says:

    Part of the success of Facebook has been as an escape from the work world, and one that you could sneak in a bit of at work. Part of the problem with email is that it streams you both work and personal email in one cluttered mess. I’m not sure Facebook email solves this problem. I’d still prefer a client app like Postbox that lets me pull in all my email streams and tag and filter to my own peculiar preferences so I can manage overload.

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    • Mario Sundar says:

      @Chris,

      I think their proposed solution definitely looks at email like you did. They are definitely gonna prioritize based on the social preferences you exhibit on Facebook.

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