Social network through the email

Slashdot runs the “Turning E-Mail into a Social Network” post, which links to this article about Google and Yahoo approach:

Ignore Orkut, OpenSocial, Yahoo Mash and Yahoo 360. Google and Yahoo have come up with new and very similar plans to respond to the challenge from MySpace and Facebook: They hope to turn their e-mail systems and personalized home page services (iGoogle and MyYahoo) into social networks.
Web-based e-mail systems already contain much of what Facebook calls the social graph — the connections between people. That’s why the social networks offer to import the e-mail address books of new users to jump-start their list of friends. Yahoo and Google realize that they have this information and can use it to build their own services that connect people to their contacts.

This feels very natural. Both Google and Yahoo indeed aggregate a lot of personal data and a lot of personal relationships (who knows who, who emails who and how often, etc). It’s logical to assume that they want to expand what they have, and social networks is one of the ways to go.

So, why email?  Email has a number of advantages over other media:

  • Everybody has an email account.  And everybody knows how to use one.  It’s almost as widely used as mobile telephony.
  • Email is very flexible – texts, HTML, attachments, links, etc.
  • Email is an open standard – there are many clients, servers, web services, plugins, etc.
  • Email is easy to convert to other media – IM chats, blogs, SMS, etc.
  • Email is often integrated with other tools, such as addressbooks, calendars, todo lists, reminders, etc.
  • Email supports both one-on-one and group communications (mailing lists).
  • Email is easy to remember (not like a phone number or ICQ UIN), lookup and share.
  • Social networks are often about messaging.

I wish email was better integrated with half of the social networks that I use.  Most of them use some sort of their own messaging system.  Some don’t even provide any messaging at all.  And all of them would have to do much less work if they relied more on email.   I’m glad to see that Google and Yahoo realize this.

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