Yahoo ... is planning to .... launch in beta relatively soon with half a dozen small applications running in a sidebar inside the Yahoo mail client (Evite is one of the services that is said to be building a nano-app for this new Yahoo Mail-as-a-platform). Users' address books would act as a social graph, essentially turning Yahoo Mail into the basis of a whole new social networking experience.I liked this idea back when Om talked about it last year and still like it now.
The only way for Yahoo or Google to challenge the social networking incumbents like Facebook [is] to leverage their email infrastructure ... With relationship buckets pre-defined by the address book, which contains everything from web-based addresses to geo-local data (physical address) to mobile numbers, email clients are already rich with the very data set that Facebook [has].
The address book is essentially a social network. Not only does it have friend relationships, but also we can determine the importance of the relationships, the weights of the social connections. Oddly, surprisingly little has been done with that information in e-mail clients.
Perhaps it is fear of breaking something that so many people use and depend on, but e-mail clients have largely stood still over the last several years while social networking applications nibbled away at their market and mind share. What experimentation has occurred seems stuck in startups and research (e.g. Xobni or Inner Circle).
Meanwhile, there seems to be a trend where social networks are creeping toward e-mail clients. For example, Facebook has added limited e-mail functionality within their site as well as Twitter-like microblogging. These features seem intended to make communication dwell within Facebook.com rather than inside e-mail and IM clients.
I admit I am a bit outside of the demographic for heavy social network users, but, from what I can tell, the primary use of social networks is for communication, perhaps with the twist of being focused primarily on dating and entertainment. It makes me wonder if social networks really are a different app from communication apps like e-mail clients or just a different facet of the same idea.
If they are nearly the same, I would expect Yahoo will do much better from implementing social networking features in Yahoo Mail than from attempting to create a new social network such as Yahoo 360. Something similar probably could be said for Orkut and GMail.
Please see also my earlier post, "E-mail versus social networks".