Email is Social!

Stop the presses at the NY Times! Or at least read the rather good post by Saul Hansell at the NYT’s BITS blog.

Google and Yahoo have come up with new and very similar plans to respond to the challenge from MySpace and Facebook: They hope to turn their e-mail systems and personalized home page services (iGoogle and MyYahoo) into social networks.

Web-based e-mail systems already contain much of what Facebook calls the social graph — the connections between people.

Let’s talk about Yahoo first. Fred Wilson estimates that Yahoo Mail, with 250 million users, is the largest social graph on the planet. But Yahoo’s plans to use this graph make Michael Arrington sad.

Yahoo’s Brad Garlinghouse is talking about creating yet-another-social-network around Yahoo mail… He says the project is called “Inbox 2.0″ internally… It makes me sad because it is absurd for Yahoo to keep launching new social networking products, almost monthly, without what appears to be any sort of high level strategic vision…

I mean, I follow these products for a living, and I can’t keep their strategies straight. Or even figure out if there is a strategy. If Inbox 2.0 is part of Yahoo’s big vision for the future, then tell us more than the bits about the news feed and profile pages. Tell us how it can change the entire company, as OpenSocial appears poised to do with Google.

I have to agree with Michael that a more coherent message is coming from Google. Recognizing Gmail as a social graph fits very well into OpenSocial. For much the same reason, I disagree with Saul when he opens his post with the advice that we ignore OpenSocial.

Other remarks from “usual suspect” blogs include: it’s about time that Yahoo and Google unlocked the social potential of their email user bases; what’s really at issue here are two concepts that Hansell… didn’t name explicitly… RSS and Attention Data; it would make more sense to focus on start pages than on email.

Then there are many good contributions to the conversation in the comments to Saul’s post, and to the other posts referenced above… But this post has gone on long enough already.