That Facebook has struck hard on Google’s business is no secret. But more bad news for Google came on November 15, 2010 when Facebook broke out of its enclosed social space and activated email like facilities. Before that one could only send message to members of facebook. Not anymore. This decision ended months of speculation on Facebook opening a ‘Gmail killer’. What does it mean for the web, and most importantly what does it mean for Google, the dominant company in the web-space today?
First of all let us consider what this means in terms of Facebook. Facebook has primarily been a social networking site i.e. it was an enclosed space for only those that use the social networking site. Till a few months back an outsider couldn’t even see photos posted on Facebook. But as the site acquired traction and grew, it slowly opened up its doors to let others have a peek.
First they allowed the ability for outsiders to be able to see photos posted in Facebook and then Messages, their email facility came up. The enclosed world of Facebook is not enclosed anymore, sending danger signals to the biggest web player, Google.
To understand the full implications of this, one has to go back into the past, when Google wrested the dominant position from the then dominant player Yahoo, less than a decade back.
Back then Yahoo, offered search and email, with email being their bread and butter. Google began by dominating the search space, and then expanded it to email, much like the competition between Facebook and Google, with both having social networking and email today. However, email users of Yahoo remember the limiting condition of around 6MB of space for emails. Most inboxes, by the time Gmail came around 2004 were full and users had to painfully delete their mails to make space or buy more space.
Circa 2011, and Gmail users face a similar predicament. Though Gmail offers over 7GB of space, with increase in bandwidth and corresponding increase in sizes of files, it’s a repeat of the Yahoo era and many Gmail accounts are bouncing. What’s worse, unlike Yahoo which mentioned the size of the mail by the side of the mail, Gmail offers no such thing making it painful for people to delete their messages to make space for more.
And just like Gmail had come to relieve people of the Yahoo mess, Facebook comes today in similar situations. What is also interesting about the Facebook mail is that in terms of functionality, this service simply called Messages, lies somewhere between email and chat with both being saved in their message folder. Considering that more and more people are spending their time on Facebook, this has already rung warning bells in the heads of Google.
Facebook Messages today is still in its infancy and needs a lot of debugging and up gradation. E.g. unlike Gmail or other mail services, you cannot download Facebook email to your laptop or PC because it still does not have IMAP services. Also Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg, himself said while launching the application, , "It's true that people will be able to have a @facebook.com email addresses, but it's not email."
He elaborated, “"SMS and IMs are so much simpler than e-mail. You don't have to remember an address or pick a subject line or say, 'Hey, Mom' at the beginning or 'Love, Mark' at the end. Messaging in the future will resemble that a lot more. It's just more natural."
It is this naturalness that attacks where it also hurts the other web giants besides Google: namely Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo with each having a large email subscriber base and making a large amount of advertising money from it.
Yet, though Facebook’s Messages may not necessarily be a Gmail killer yet as had been pointed out, but what many commentators have been pointing out is that Google is getting more stagnant by the day, while Facebook is evolving and expanding just like Google did a decade back. And it may not be far away when it will usurp Google from the web emperor’s throne.
What this hence means is that Google has quickly to get on their feet and make some quick changes to what they do and how they do it. Again, there’s history to show that they need to be quick about it. After Gmail ate out Yahoo, the latter did launch unlimited mail space, but it was so late and the damage had already been done, people had already migrated to Gmail and got accustomed to it.
From a consumer perspective though, just like the last time, no matter who wins or loses in this webspace battle, the winner will be the end user.
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