If you follow any of the technology blogs, or even happened to glance at Yahoo! during the past few days, you may have noticed that Facebook is planning an "event" for this coming Monday. As usually happens with these events, almost everyone has been speculating as to what new feature the popular social network could roll out next. This time, it seems to be an overhaul of Facebook's email system, with all of its users possibly getting an @facebook.com email address.
This announcement is interesting, yet also confusing to me. Allow me to explain. Back in the beginning days of the Internet (and technically speaking, still today), we access websites through a series of numbers called IP addresses. So to go to one website, you would type, for example, 22.214.171.124 into the web browser and be taken to that homepage. But then, along came the domain name system, which allows a word to be translated into that address. So instead of remembering a very complex set of numbers for every one of their favorite sites, users can now simply remember facebook.com or google.com. You're probably wondering what this has to do with anything.
Well, in order to send someone an email, we have to remember a series of letters and numbers followed by an @ sign, followed by more letters, followed by a period, followed by more letters. This is ridiculous. I have saved all of my contacts, so sending them an email is not difficult because Gmail or whatever email program you use stores the names and associated emails. But suppose you want to send an email to your friend "John Smith?" You know his name, just not his email address. So what do you do? You either have to look his email up on Facebook, assuming it is publicly available, or you have to wait and ask him for it at some other time. This is a problem; it is a problem that Facebook can fix.
Email needs to be more social - a form of social which is not necessarily a bad thing. So what can Facebook do? Facebook, as you are aware, is currently the biggest social network in the world. It knows all of your connections; it knows that when you want to talk to "John Smith," it's not the same "John Smith" that someone else is likely wanting to talk to. This is where the confusion comes in, which I will do my best to explain.
Essentially, I am proposing that Facebook begin to change email all-together. Redo the inbox, make it a full-featured web-application, even allow IMAP and POP support. But it can be different than email in this way: Instead of having to remember my immature friend's email address of "firstname.lastname@example.org," I can instead formulate an email by typing, from any account, email@example.com. Then, when Facebook's servers receive the email, they can compare the sender with the recipient and know which John Smith it was intended for. Have two John Smith's in your friends list? It could reply with an email that asks for clarification.
Internally, this would work similar to email, but in another way, entirely different. Instead of having to remember or store 2,000 contacts, all I have to do is remember their name. I think, if human social interaction demonstrates anything, that it is much easier to remember a name (think google.com) than a series of numbers of letters (think 126.96.36.199).