Facebook is burying email, or so it wishes

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg announced last week at the Nielsen Consumer 360 conference that email is a thing of the past: "[...] if you want to know what people […] will do tomorrow, you look at what teenagers are doing today, and the latest figures say that only 11% of teenagers email daily. So email […] is probably going away. So what do teenagers do? They SMS and increasingly they use social networking."

Facebook wants to keep its 400 million users confined to the Facebook site, and it has been pretty good at it. That includes having a virtual currency, introducing Paypal as a payment for advertisement –a sure hit for small businesses–, open graph (the successor of Facebook connect), which now aims at Google with its open graph search. Facebook is becoming more and more a one-stop web experience – the AOL of this generation.

And naturally Facebook would love email usage to be replaced with social networks like themselves. The reason is that email addresses of targeted consumers are difficult to obtain, and advertising via email is seen very negatively as spamming. So claiming that “email […] is probably going away” is a message directed at marketers and advertisers, telling them that Facebook, as it becomes a primary communication mean, will also be the primary framework for connecting with consumers.

But it is too early to bury email. Somehow Facebook’s COO forgot to say that you need an email account to create a Facebook account. Or that many Facebook users rely on email for Facebook notifications to keep up with their friends’ updates. Also she didn’t quote properly the Pew Internet report that she pulled out the 11% figure from. In reality this figure is “the % of teens who contact their friends daily by different methods”, so it doesn’t include email usage outside of the friend and family circle. Teens use SMS and social media more than their parents, not because they reject email, but because they communicate mostly with their network of friends and family. Once in the active life, email will be one of the tools they use daily, like most of their parents, as email is still the preferred way of communication in the business, and formal world.

Long live email!

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