Facebook, AOL’s E-meh-l Initiatives

You know what would be truly valuable? A highly scalable email provider in the cloud that encrypted your stored mail so only you could read it. I’d be at least as much as I already do for my virtual private server for a secure, private solution that I don’t have to administer. Instead we are getting a couple of attempts at re-inventing email supposedly to make it simpler or better.

AOL (remember them?) is desperately trying to offer something of relevance with their attempt at email aggregation. I am not so sure I buy the argument that setting up email forwarding is all that hard. According to Verne G. Kopytoff at the New York Times, the promise of Project Phoenix is to pull all your email to one place, on their servers, of course. Reading the article, it sounds like a conservation of hassle compared to using existing means to re-direct your email.

It doesn’t stop there, but also includes add ons clearly aimed at the upcoming generation that has been oft quoted as finding email irrelevant.

Users can use it to send a text message, an AIM instant message, a text-only e-mail or a status update through AOL Lifestream, which allows users to broadcast messages to various services like Twitter and Facebook. The idea is to give users the ability to send off messages quickly without having to click through to another page to write.

These non-email messaging capabilities overlap very strongly with a new messaging initiative with the considerably more relevant social network service, Facebook. Among others, Robert Pegoraro, veteran techie at the Washington Post, has the details of what Facebook is claim is not an email service. You can set up your name at the facebook.com domain and receive traditional email. It would be more fair to say it is not only email but like Project Phoenix is seeking to blend email with IM and synchronous chat.

Allow me to indulge my inner crank and let loose a resounding, meh. By blending quick, synchronous communication in with email’s staid bastion of asynchrony, both AOL and Facebook are obliterating the value inherent in being able to ignore and defer conversations. Are young users so incapable of using existing chat and instant messaging that we have to fuse them with the email services they claim not to use anyway? Must I now increasingly have to put up with the stunted, interrupt driven style of communication fostered by chat and IM? I find it very hard to believe that the youngest generation are incapable of appreciating the differences and values arising from them inherent in old and new messaging systems.

Of course, the real motive of both online companies is to capture more use through their own systems for the purposes of extracting value, usually through various kinds of advertising. Lauren Weinstein is already calling attention to the darker current underlying Facebook’s new service, namely the inability to use it and keep correspondences entirely private. I only hope that these latest attempts are as jarring and useless as Wave was to kill them before they rob me of my own preferred communication channel, email. Or, in other words–Hey! You kids! Get off of my lawn!