I read an article this morning by the Wall Street Journal on social features in e-mail. In this article they state that e-mail providers are trying to gain back ground from social networking sites like Facebook by adding social features to their e-mail platform.
I am a big fan of the concept of e-mail being at the heart of social networking. Why? Because e-mail has a lot of features that are important to me. It has a simple address book, easy interaction mechanisms, it is essentially a person’s directed tool (otherwise it is spam), and is used by a whole lot of people. Om Malik started a good discussion on e-mail being the ultimate social networking environment earlier. He states:
Given its critical role in our digital lives, I wonder if email could be the underpinning of a social environment — much less a social network and more a “relationship and interaction manager that aggregates various social web services” — that doesn’t require rewiring our brains and changing our behavior.
I think the concept of e-mail can be improved to become exactly that. It currently has flaws that need correction, spam being the most obvious one. But the WSJ article makes me wonder if the guys at Yahoo, Microsoft and other e-mail providers really understand social networking. Adding stuff to e-mail that existing social networks already have won’t be a competitive advantage (wow I can now create Yet Another Profile Page in my e-mail!!!)!
Why not focus on those things that they can do much better and get some real innovation going:
- Focus on interaction, not on user profiles. My profile is my interaction with others. I don’t care about pimped up profiles that do not match reality, I care about interacting with my family, friends, co-workers, interesting people I might not know. It is the interaction that defines me.
- Create a spam free, streaming, multimedia sharing environment. Stop thinking in terms of me sending a message to you. That concept leads to overfull mail boxes and me feeling the pressure of having to answer them all. Think me sharing the things that are important to me with you. Think of a stream of thoughts, messages, content, emotions I want to share. As a receiver I might look at them, or choose to ignore them for now. Think of sharing on-line, so that my e-mail becomes a streaming messaging service. I don’t have to deal with loads of data in my inbox, the data is on-line available and more important sharable without too many storing and bandwidth constraints.
- Think of ways that I can share the things I have just found somewhere. Control Copy, Control Paste a link or content into an e-mail message sucks from a user perspective. So how can we improve on that?
- Think about the e-mail address book. It doesn’t handle multiple identities, e-mail addresses etc. It doesn’t have any presence capabilities. What if I want something to reach my friend who is not behind a terminal, but is available on his mobile?
- Think about urgency. Everyone sends me e-mails using the red !, so that won’t do anymore as an urgent message concept. Urgency depends on the sender, the receiver, content, place, time, terminal etc. Broaden this concept and make it work for us.
- Think about incorporating social search for subjects, messages, people, anything I need really. Think multimedia, think conversations, etc. Current search capabilities limit me to keywords. But how about interaction during my search.
- Think about decentralization. Make the service USER centric, not PLATFORM centric. Integrate it in all the devices and tools I might want to use. Make it work for me, instead of me working to get it working.
- Think OPEN, let me access the service anywhere, let me import and export anything I want to and from the service, let me have streams available on any platform, or incorporate any other service stream into this service.
- Think about seamless integration of family, friends, contacts across existing platforms. It is such a pain for me to figure out how to add my friend on MySpace, G-mail, MSN, Hotmail, Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook to my address book. And while doing that, think of ways I can easily decide where to land my message to a friend, or perhaps let my friend decide where he wants to receive it.
This list could easily be expanded if we were to sit down with a few creative people. So stop walking the paths every social network is walking, and start rebuilding the concept a-synchronous e-mail into something more fluid, perhaps the ultimate social interaction tool!