"Email—I can't imagine life without it—is probably going away," said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in June, citing how only 11% of teens use email daily.
That's the same story parroted Monday by Sandberg's boss, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who introduced the company's new messaging service by suggesting a generational shift away from email.
"We don't really use email," was what he said he heard too often from younger family members. "Email is too slow."
Based on Sandberg's and Zuckerberg's comments, it's no surprise the blogosphere proclaimed the social network's new service a "Gmail killer." But that's entirely the wrong term to be using. For starters, Gmail isn't that big a deal. It has only a 15% market share. Hotmail has double and Yahoo triple that userbase. Facebook isn't interested in killing off any of them as a messaging platform—its goal is to rise above them all, contain them all, and thereby rule them all.
The best analogy for the Facebook plan is what happened to Instant Messaging. Years ago, we'd have to log on to the AIM application or ICQ or MSN Messenger to chat with our friends, and we couldn't use them all at once. Those services still exist, but you're far less likely to use them these days. You're more likely to open up a chat window on Gmail or Meebo, which can connect you to all those clients at once. It's no wonder Facebook's director of engineering Andrew "Boz" Bosworth said the company "modeled [the new service] after chat."
Facebook plans to swallow up email in the same fashion. You won't need Facebook and your email service open in two separate windows: you'll just need Facebook. Zuckerberg wants you to migrate without giving up your mail account. "We don't expect anyone to say, I'm going to shut down my Yahoo or Gmail account and switch exclusively to Facebook," he said on Monday.
If the service works as planned, it won't matter if Google or Yahoo boast more @ extensions; users will spend more time on Facebook, provide it more personal data, and ultimately, earn the company more ad revenue. Other email services will be relegated to auto-forwarding duty.
Zuckerberg knows this isn't an overnight shift. As he said, it could take years. But he does hope, as Sandberg predicted, that this move toward Facebook message aggregating is generational. For the social network to swallow email, Facebook believes, it is only a matter of time.