Facebook Email: Not a Gmail killer, but my kid wants an invite

Gmail's alive and well after today's announcement about Facebook's new social/integrated inbox. However, about 450 million people (my son included) are mighty eager for invites to the @facebook.com beta.

OK, so I was wrong about a possible enterprise play with Facebook's new email system, unveiled Monday. At least for now, until progressive businesses think the idea of integrated, customized, social inboxes might not be so bad. Still, there was no shortage of pundits who speculated that this would be a Gmail-killer whatever it was. While they were wrong, too, Google execs and investors are hardly breathing a sigh of relief.

As ZDNet's Sam Diaz pointed out,

The jury will be out for a bit on whether Facebook’s effort is a winning solution or whether people will actually start using it...But the idea that some users, including the younger users who already prefer SMS and Facebook over traditional email systems, will shift the winds for future generations is something that makes me hopeful - hopeful that the clunky e-mail systems of today will someday be history.

After all, Gmail users can send and receive SMS, voice, IM, and email messages within their inboxes. Google also provides some automatic sorting of emails into their new Priority Inbox, so Facebook hasn't introduced much to which Google doesn't have an answer.

Google's integrated messaging, however, isn't all that integrated. It's fairly disjointed and lacks the customizability in terms of preferred interface (e.g., receiving emails as IMs if a use prefers the messaging utility) that Facebook will be rolling out. What Facebook really has going for it here, though, is, well, Facebook.

For those of us who take Facebook with a grain of salt, this isn't a game changer. But Google's continued conspicuously absent social components leave Gmail and its SMS, IM, and voice/video chat widgets feeling a bit long in the tooth. I mean, everything's supposed to be social now, right?

I'm not a giant Facebook fan and I essentially live, eat, and breathe all things Google. That being said, I can't help but feel that it's time for Google to focus on making Google Me (or whatever their social thing turns out to be) a reality. Part of this reality also needs to be very tight integration of Me, email, Docs, and Android, allowing Google to leapfrog Facebook's latest advances. Oh yeah, and that social component? It better be a part of Google Apps, too, giving Apps customers the option to bring social interactions to their businesses that go way beyond what Microsoft can offer with hosted SharePoint.

Obviously this is a tall order. But the timing is important. Probably the most telling thing I heard all afternoon and evening as the analysts dug into @facebook.com didn't come from some blogger. It came from my oldest son who uses technology like any other digital native but is fairly indifferent to most of it.

"Dad, you'll probably get an invite pretty soon to this new Facebook email. Can you make sure you send me an invite?"

This from the kid who never checks his Gmail anymore and doesn't realize that his school school's email system is Google Apps for Education.

What does it mean that he watched Zuckerberg's webcast live while I waited until tonight to watch it? He doesn't even watch TV shows live. Facebook has one heck of an audience. So does Google in their search business, but there's more to life than search. It's high time that Google upped its game. All the pieces are there, save social. We can't be letting Facebook set the bar for online communications, can we?