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11.05.2007 9:40 am

Email Plots the 'Social Graph'

SUMMARY
Fast growing social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are gradually becoming a one-stop communication medium for millions of users who communicate via instant messages, voice calls, video greetings or emails. Thus, its potential impact on online communication tools like E-mail cannot be ignored altogether. In light of competition from social networks, several E-mail providers including Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL are addressing the social needs of their users.  This group, among others, has recently added features that allow users to perform sociable functions like tracking friends and creating personal-profile pages.  Much of these efforts are being made to achieve the overall objective of retaining their loyal base of users which is critical in maintaining it's advertising revenues.

THE PLAY

Just as E-mail became the “killer app” before the bubble bust so have social networks after it. E-mail has long been a primary form of online communication. Research group Radicati predicts that there will be 1.4 billion active email accounts by the end of this year. However, social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have a combined user of almost 300 million and are adding several hundred thousand new users everyday. Moreover, these sites now have email capabilities allowing - for example, Facebook users can email a friend who hasWeb-based email like Yahoo. In addition, social networks are enabling users to easily keep in close touch with friends and families by updating their status or "what are they doing" via mini-news feeds from Facebook or Twitter.


Keeping the competitive challenges that social networks are giving them into account, several E-mail providers like Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and others are now incorporating social networking functionality in their email offerings in mapping out the relationships between people and how are they related (social graph).
An interesting experiment Yahoo (and similarly Google) is undertaking internally is called “Friend Finder”.  Friend Finder analyzes a user’s email traffic and indicates the friends with whom a user has strong email connections based on incoming/outgoing traffic and the frequency and speed in which two parties respond to each other. Yahoo also lets Yahoo email users see other Yahoo-ers who are online and send instant messages without clicking over to the Yahoo IM software. Google’s Gmail now allows users to post 'stuff' on social network sites like Facebook or Twitter and allows them to generate email feeds of the friends they want to follow when are then delivered directly to their inbox. Users can also organize messages by subject line and/or sender which makes it easier to track their friends’ social networking activities. Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail now allows users to create profile pages and list contact details and other personal information. In the next few months, AOL users will be able to access their Facebook accounts within a panel of AOL's Web mail service. Experiments are also underway for users to personalize their accounts and connect with other users.


With a typical social user having multiple email and social networking accounts, recent startups like Fuser and Orgoo aim to become a central communication hub by organizing all your messages in a single inbox. Fuser (still in beta) allows users to pull in emails from any Web-based email account including Outlook (IMAP or POP) email service as well as popular social networking site like MySpace and Facebook. Not only can you view your messages in collective inbox, but you can also hit the reply, leave a note on your friend’s wall or send them a Facebook message. Moreover, you can view a “leaderboard” of your social network friends to see who communicates with you most frequently.

With millions of users, E-mail in itself is already a huge social network with a global presence. If E-mail providers can figure out how unite the social graph or, in other words, connect the dots based on user connections with improved functionality there really isn’t a need to build a social network from scratch.

Resources: Wall Street Journal, Venture Beat


Bob Rattivarakorn
Trends Research Analyst
RarePlay

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