Today (Monday), Facebook is expected to use the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco to announce something new in the apps area. An unconfirmed report by TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid says it's a Facebook email service, developed under the code-name Project Titan.
It's also expected that Facebook email will work with Microsoft's web-based version of Office, which is available to Facebook users at Docs.com. Microsoft has already added this functionality to its own Live Hotmail online service. Users can read, edit and share Microsoft Office documents without owning a PC or Mac version of the application.
Facebook currently has a simple mail-like internal messaging service but it does not allow users to exchange emails with standard internet addresses, or to send attachments.
Facebook could become a major email service, because it has more than 500 million active users. They won't all use Facebook mail, if it becomes available, and almost all of them will already have at least one email address. However, the service could come to compete with Hotmail (almost 400m users), Yahoo (300m) and Google's Gmail (approaching 200m).
Facebook's messaging service has the advantage that users are clearly identified, and most of them use their real names. This contrasts with email, most of which is spam. It's not clear how Facebook could retain the advantages of social identification if it allows emails from outside Facebook.
The introduction of "Fmail" looks likely to intensify Facebook's war with Google, which has struggled to make an impact in social networking. Google has already made several attempts in the social networking area, with Orkut, Wave, Buzz, Google Profiles and others, without much success. It has also reportedly been working on another social network, called Google Me. When the Wall Street Journal asked Google boss Eric Schmidt whether the company was creating a Facebook rival, he said: “The world doesn’t need a copy of the same thing.” However, given Google's track record of trying to create knock-offs of other successful products, this doesn't mean much.
AOL (America Online) made a huge impact on the web when it opened the flood gates to AOL Mail. Facebook mail will undoubtedly make less of an impact, but it could last longer.