I remember when webmail first appeared. It seemed like a revolution. Gone was the clunkiness associated with in-office mail clients like Microsoft’s Outlook or IBM’s Lotus Notes. In was speed, flexibility and simplicity. And it also meant that I could read and respond to personal emails at work.
It took me some time, however, to fully shift over to webmail. The ingrained business behaviour of owning your own backup ran deep. I held on and held on to various versions of Outlook (as my operating system upgraded from XP to Vista and so on). But the time and effort (and sheer size of the mail files) associated with this behaviour eventually collapsed under its own weight. Why was I managing my own email data?
When I switched to Gmail things changed pretty quickly. Now I had a single place to consolidate my various email accounts. I had a simple way of logging on from anywhere in the world, and I could quickly and easily search my massive mail archive.
And when the Rapportive plugin for Gmail became available, I could suddenly see a whole world of social connections explode within my inbox. There were connection details about people I was communicating with – email addresses, Twitter IDs, LinkedIn profiles and a raft of other, publicly available information. And while this is a great extension, it only addresses part of the problem.
You see, email is just one of the ways that I communicate with people. I have my blog and the comment streams. I have Twitter. I have LinkedIn and the discussion forums. And I have Facebook. By default, everything is linked via email. That is, it comes back to that unique identifier that marks me out as an individual. But Facebook wants to change that – and has designed its new messaging product to bring a social world to your inbox.
As the video below shows, the Facebook social inbox is poised to bring a range of communication options into one place. You’ll need a Facebook email address first of all (and I am sure there will be a goldrush there). But once you have this, your messaging will be simplified, integrated, altogether more easy. Or so they say.
Now, there are some benefits to the social inbox. In the video, they talk about connecting you with your grandma. They talk about the social inbox being that box of letters that your grandma kept under her bed – a way of remembering all the important moments in your life.
This is a great concept – and a powerful, emotional story. But I don’t want Facebook to be that repository for me. I’d prefer, like a shoebox of letters, to be able to curate exactly what is important and why. In fact I do.
And while I like the privacy features – you can use the Facebook privacy settings to limit and manage who gets into your inbox (hooray for a positive use of the Facebook privacy settings), this is a filter that would not necessarily work for someone with a more open social graph. In that way, Facebook’s social inbox seems more like yet another place for communication rather than a replacement.
Will I use it? Probably (once I receive the special invitation). Will it change the way I communicate? Maybe. But at first glance, I see very little value in this for brands and businesses – unless you’re Facebook. And at a guess, we’ll see another spurt of membership arising out of this.