I have not made it a secret that I'm not a fan of the Facebook service. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm quite impressed by Mark Zuckerberg, and what he and his team have been able to accomplish in a few short years.
I just dislike the actual existence of Facebook.
I dislike the added social overhead that comes from telling an aunt that, "No, I'm not going to friend you because you'll stalk all my business friends." I don't like telling a long-time, politically conservative gaming buddy that I have to drop him from my friends list because he crawled down the throat of one of my more liberal friends.
I like to keep my constituencies separated, but Facebook likes to mash them all together so they have a better chance of constructing (and selling) my social graph.
Into this world of social clusterfraks comes the new idea of Facebook mail and messaging. Zuckerberg announced yesterday that he essentially wants to use your social graph as another vector for spam management.
This, on its own, is a pretty smart idea which could reduce inbox crap -- unless most of the inbox crap you get happens to be from a family member who still insists on sending you a joke every hour on the hour.
You may not remember (because we seem to have very short memories here in Internet time), but back when Google was getting ready to launch Gmail, everyone was worried that they'd be reading our mail in order to display context-sensitive ads.
It seems so quaint.
Of course, Gmail has become a juggernaut in the email world, comprising about about 15% of all Internet email traffic. Yahoo mail and Hotmail (okay, Windows Live Mail) together comprise another 75%.
Most people who use Gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo mail don't care about the ads. They just want email.
Likewise, most people quite obviously don't care too much about their privacy, or we wouldn't be seeing so many status updates about so many inappropriately personal things.
But Facebook is different from all the other services in one important factor: identity. Facebook has managed to create an enormous user base of people who are absolutely not anonymous. Their pictures are online and their real names are essentially verified by their friends lists.
This means that email that flows through Facebook can be connected with real people, rather than just logins or user ids. This could be quite powerful in all sorts of areas, from simple targeted marketing to law enforcement.
Of course, no one is forcing us to move our email over to Facebook and this whole issue may be more fuss than substance.
Here's the paradox of Facebook offering some sort of mail service. To Facebook's primary audience, email is an anachronism. I like email and I dislike Facebook. I'm a fogey. I like the telephone and I dislike texting. I'm an old fart.
Fogeys and old farts are the ones who still use a lot of email. Teeny-boppers don't. So while Facebook may be offering a new email-like service, their core audience is most probably going to respond with a typical, "Whatever."