5 Ways Social Networks Can Save Email

10/20/2010 by Jason M. Atwood (he/him)
A look at how some of the social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter are leaving email in the dust and what can be done to save it.

No Longer King

Email enjoyed a long life at the top of the charts in terms of internet usage, which at one point was over 250 billion emails a day. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter however, have taken over the scene with people leaving email as a result. The problems with email are clear as the virtual ink used to send it. Email suffers from junk mail, marketing blasts, searchability, trust and an inability to catch up with the features being offered on other platforms. Email standards have not progressed and the clients on the desktop have shown no innovation in years.

While companies like Google tried to re-invite email with Google Wave it never took hold for a variety of reasons including adoption and confusion. What Google Wave did show what could be done with a whole new take on email if we threw out the preconcieved ideas.

5 Ideas to Save Email

  1. New Protocol: IMAP/POP/MAPI are all old and outdated relying on standards set forth in the early days of the internet. Time for someone to step up and write the next email protocol that is based on an open standard, a great API and realtime collaboaration. This new standard should include ways to extend it with add-ons or plugins both from the client and server sides. Support things like hash tags and indented replies to make emails feel more like conversations but be more structured as a result.
  2. Get Social: The social web isn't going away anytime soon, it is where people work, play and communicate, so build it into email. Replace the address book with something that pulls in all your contacts from Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. Rethink the "Subject" of an email which has been replaced with a status. Build in the realtime nature of the social web and tag people instead of sending "to" them.
  3. Embrace Trust: SPAM is killing email because any spammer that can guess your email address can send you an email. Learn from the trusted social networks and only allow people who are in your social address book (see above) to send you a message. Accept users into your emails like "liking" or "linking in" with all other senders getting quarantined.
  4. Integrate: Everything about the social web starts with integration into other services. A post from twitter can show up on your Facebook status and Foursquare checkins can tweet your location to Twitter. Bring those integrations into email including geolocation, status and the ability to expose the social network of contacts. Get an email from someone and be able to see their tweets, Linked In profile or last location.
  5. Hybrid Approach: The next wave for email should take a highly hybrid approach, focusing on collaboration, standards and consistency. It will probably start with the web versions like Gmail and Yahoo since they are not bound by executables on the client side.

The Big Question

While all of this sounds good and would do a lot to save email from becoming the Instant Message of our times, in the end it comes down to a big question of "Can anyone make money on innovating email?" With the onlsaught of interactive ads and networks, I think the answer is yes.

Now, who is up to the challenge?