Facebook announced Monday that it shuttered its oft-forgotten email service, which allowed users to receive messages at an “@facebook.com” email address. The change was explained to users in a message highlighting Facebook’s renewed focus on mobile messaging — an obvious priority for the company, which recently spent $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp, a mobile messaging platform with some 450 million users.
Mark Zuckerberg lauded the WhatsApp acquisition at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday. “WhatsApp is the most engaging app we’ve ever seen on mobile,” he said. “It blows everything else away.”
That could become even truer over the coming months when the service adds voice calling to attract another couple hundreds of millions of users.
Facebook is betting that its users would rather use a mobile messaging or calling platform than an email client or their smartphone’s built-in calling capabilities. That’s why it’s willing to spend 10 percent of its marketshare on a single acquisition but unwilling to maintain a simple email service.
But can the company own the entire communication experience without offering some kind of email service?
It’s easy to dismiss email as a relic of a time when people didn’t communicate through social networks, text messages, or instant messaging tools. People are favoring services that allow them to communicate without having to worry about subject lines or hard-to-remember email addresses. Facebook now owns one of the services to which those people were flocking, operates another as part of its own platform, and plans to break into voice calling, too.
But email services aren’t nearly as endangered as some might think. If they were, Gmail’s Promotions tab wouldn’t frighten so many retailers; businesses would be using mobile messaging platforms for their corporate communications; and Facebook wouldn’t ask potential users to provide their email addresses when they sign up. Email is far from dead.
Reactions from around the Web
Re/code’s senior editor of social media, Mike Isaac, writes that Facebook’s email service didn’t fail because the company ignored it — it failed because customers did:
It’s not for lack of trying to make it work. Two years ago, Facebook gave users a nudge toward using their Facebook.com email addresses by switching the default settings and displaying those addresses on users’ pages without letting them know beforehand. It did not go over well.
So this is likely a smart idea, considering Facebook Messenger is the standalone app that has taken off the most for the social network. And considering Facebook just spent $19 billion acquiring WhatsApp, it’s pretty obvious that Facebook is putting quite a bit of its efforts behind messaging in general.
The Huffington Post places the email service in the larger context of Facebook’s efforts to control essentially every method of communication possible:
When Facebook sees something that works, it either buys it or tries to create its own version of it. When Facebook’s email service first appeared, it was referred to as the “Gmail killer.” After Facebook tried and failed to buy Snapchat in November of last year, it released a Snapchat knockoff called Poke. When Instagram started to blow up in 2012, Facebook bought it. Facebook’s been taking its own messaging app much more seriously for the past few years, and it just bought WhatsApp for $19 billion.
Facebook wants to be your everything, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
Pando weighs in
Paul Carr wrote about email’s longevity in the face of adversity after NSFWCORP subscribers told him to send more emails:
So email, it turns out, is not dead. In fact, amongst NSFWCORP’s core readers — educated, employed, older than 25, blah blah blah — it remains an incredibly effective way to deliver a message, especially if you want that message to be read and acted upon. (By contrast, when I tweeted a request for feedback last week to over 12,000 followers, I received precisely two replies.)
Ping co-founder Erez Pilosof, in a guest post for Pando, explained that email isn’t going anywhere even as it continues to evolve:
Consumers around the world have made it clear how they like to communicate – everything from the slew of messaging apps to abundance of social networks show that the way we communicate has fundamentally changed. If email is ever going to be valuable and, dare I say, fun, again, we need to make conversation a natural, enjoyable part of the process once more by having email reflect how we’ve evolved to talk to one another. This fourth iteration is still in its stages of infancy, or if anything has yet to be seen at all, but soon email will look little to no different than the rich, multimedia mobile messaging we know and love.
[image adapted by Brad Jonas from wikimedia]