Facebook e-mail: The battle with Google heats up
Today could see a new battle between Google and Facebook.
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg
Tech news blog Techcrunch reported that the service is known as Project Titan, "unofficially referred to internally as its 'Gmail killer'". Of course, Google is not the only company that would be affected by the rumoured product. Other e-mail providers include AOL, Yahoo with 303 million users and kingpin Microsoft with 384 million users.
At the weekend, AOL announced a timely preview of Project Phoenix, an update to its e-mail service. The press release did not specify how many people use AOL mail but did say that it "remains an important part of AOL's business; in fact it represents 45 percent of the page views on the AOL network today".
If the rumours of "@facebook.com" addresses are accurate, imagine the clamour for email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and even email@example.com - addresses which carry a certain cachet because they will seem so "in" with Facebook. "Hey, look at me: I don't even need my last name!"
But I digress from the rivalry between Facebook and Google.
The thing to remember is that Facebook's users are a very engaged bunch; with so much of their information locked in Facebook's walled garden, they are the envy of Google which is unable to trawl through all that data and point adverts at them.
On Facebook, people share status updates and photos, write on one another's walls, buy and send virtual goods, play games, ask questions, and check into places and cash in on deals. Add a decent e-mail service to the mix and you need almost never leave.
In return, Facebook will get to know more about you and your interactions with friends and colleagues: where you shop, where you are going on holiday and what you are up to this coming weekend and in the future. It will know more about your work, likes, dislikes and contacts. And of course all this e-mail will be personally identifiable and open to monetisation through advertising.
Worrying stuff for Google.
A report by the research firm Gartner says that "greater availability of social-networking-services, coupled with changing demographics and work styles, will lead 20% of employees to use social networks as their business communications' hub by 2014."
"The rigid distinction between e-mail and social networks will erode," says Gartner senior research vice president Monica Basso.
"E-mail will take on many social attributes, such as contact brokering, while social networks will develop richer e-mail capabilities."
The Facebook e-mail rumours followed a very public spat about address books. Google recently blocked Facebook from importing Gmail contacts because Facebook was keeping its own contacts private. Google says it believes in the open sharing of such data.
Last week Google awarded its staff an across-the-board 10% pay increase in an attempt to stem the flow of talent to Facebook, seen by many as having a more innovative culture because of its smaller size.
Facebook has around 2,000 staff; Google has 23,000. Recent high-profile departures included Lars Rasmussen who created Wave - which was nixed because it wasn't getting enough user traction - and was also the co-founder of Google Maps.
Chrome architect Matthew Papakipos, Android senior product manager Erick Tseng, and top ad executive David Fischer also decamped to Facebook earlier this year.
Other notable departures include Bret Taylor, the former CEO of Friendfeed and now Facebook's chief technology officer and platform manager Carl Sjogreen who led the team that gave the world Google Calendar.
At the Redfin corporate blog, Glenn Kelman recently noted that of the 2,174 Facebook employees with a profile on networking service Linkedin, 378 previously worked at Google.
Musical chairs aside, all attention here in Silicon Valley is focused on Mark Zuckerberg, who is coming to a swanky San Francisco hotel to make an announcement - which will come hours before an appearance by Google's CEO Eric Schmidt at the Web 2.0 Summit in a nearby hotel.
Mr Zuckerberg will be appearing at Web 2.0 on Tuesday.
It is worth remembering that it is all about the data. While Google has quite a bit to lose and Facebook has much to gain, what's in it for the humble user?