Folks, if you have a pulse and use the Web, you hear a lot about social networks and Web 2.0 media. And while I find Facebook and its ilk aggravating — oh my God, will someone please throw a real UI designer at MySpace? — they’re obviously as powerful a shift in Web consumption as we’ve seen since its commercial inception in the mid-90s.
That being said, e-mail is still the ultimate interactive medium. While Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, Hi5 and the like may offer a big tent, it’s a loud, noisy, distracting tent. To me, they feel more like an overcrowded club with the music turned up to 11, no privacy and no protection from weird strangers.
E-mail, meanwhile, offers a wide range of social options (it can offer one-to-many, one-to-one, group discussion and more), the ability to share files and video, flexibility (no inflexible UI to when you’re pulling together your message) and the ability to transmit ideas in a heartbeat. It’s no coincidence that social media sites e-mail you when someone wants your attention; even they know that few users will check their portal often. The next step is for those companies to acknowledge that they need to push their functionality out to e-mail somehow.
So, how should e-mail transform itself to incorporate social media features? Certainly, Google’s inclusion of an IM function in its Webmail interface is a good idea–as is Yahoo’s effort to add text messaging to its mail service–but I think the process can go much further than that. I’m talking about nothing less than the deconstruction of e-mail as a unit of information and reassembly as a feature-rich utility.
What form that would take I don’t know — but I’m confident it will happen.
UPDATE: Over at estimable social media blog Mashable, they note that Google seems to be planning a service which pushes updates on those in your contacts database into the Gmail UI. Interesting stuff — and definitely a move you can expect other Webmail and social media players to imitate. Scratch what I said above…this is clearly where e-mail is going.