Facebook email may struggle to grab users

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

It’s always good to see new, free web tools available for us consumers. However, I don’t know that I’ll be rushing to join the Facebook email/messaging revolution.

The social networking site has announced a new messaging service that it hopes will handle email and other communications across different services.

In other words, Facebook is taking on the likes of Google and Yahoo in the email and messaging stakes.

Yahoo has been around for a long time so I’m guessing a lot of people will probably stay there out of sheer convenience: if you’ve had the same email address for years you are hardly likely to want to change it now.

As for Google’s Gmail, it’s a fine example of a well-thought-out email system that offers huge chunks of storage space and integrates beautifully with all of Google’s other goodies.

Yes, Facebook has the whole social networking thing going on that could integrate nicely with an email system and yes, Google Chat hasn’t really gained any traction, but I still think Facebook will be hard pressed to pull loyalty away from Gmail.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg gave a speech earlier this year saying email was on the way out and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg echoed that sentiment yesterday.

Zuckerberg reckons that while the new messaging system will let users have their own facebook.com email addresses, its main focus won’t be email. Instead, he reckons the new system will let users send instant messages and text messages.

That’s all very well, but anyone who uses Facebook will know that the already-built-in chat system is at times quite slow, and often simply locks up if you look at it the wrong way.

Another point the Facebook dudes have made in the past is that going by information from their users, just 11 per cent of teens check their email daily and that if you look at the current habits of teens you’ll see the future habits of the rest of us. That might be the case but surely we shouldn’t forget that the older age group is a rapidly growing group and still like to check their email daily.

Besides, with Facebook’s already dodgy track record when it comes to protecting our privacy, I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel about using the site for email or messaging.
I think I’d rather use other more established platforms for that: sites that have already shown they won’t treat my privacy like a joke.

Yes, I’m a Facebook user but as things are now, I choose what information I have on the site. I don’t want to change that.

» I see Stephen Fry has managed to land himself in hot water again, this time around with a bit of a Twitter rant where he called a student who wrote about him a “cynical ignorant  … ”  er, think of a word that rhymes with trucker. Be careful out there in Twitter-land, you never know who might be watching.

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