The Authority Race And Facebook's Email Service

With many young users leveraging the Facebook inbox as their primary messaging service rather than email, why would Facebook find it necessary to launch their own email service on Monday? One answer is that Facebook needs access to the inbox to determine individuals' true authority and influence.

With many young users leveraging the Facebook inbox as their primary messaging service rather than email, why would Facebook find it necessary to launch their own email service on Monday? One answer is that Facebook needs access to the inbox to determine individuals’ true authority and influence.

The Problem

While Google may suggest that they’ve solved a large portion of the search problem, the reality is that there are still significant flaws with Google’s algorithm, most significantly PageRank. PageRank uses incoming hyperlinks to a page to determine how relevant that content is for various keywords. We’ve been discussing for a while how the like could kill the link, however what we haven’t discussed is the main problem with search.

If you asked most people reading this blog, I personally am an expert on Facebook. While there are other people who have been covering the company for some time, I’ve obsessively covered the company for over three years now. The problem right now is if I were to write a blog post about Facebook on another site which had less influence (i.e. PageRank in terms of Google’s algorithm), my post won’t actually rank high even though technically my knowledge should usurp a random SEO master.

The flaw here is that authority is dependent upon the site I publish my article on. In one sense this isn’t completely flawed: writing an article for the New York Times does generate true authority over posting the identical article on Joe Schmoe’s blog. However I cannot easily leverage the authority generated on another site to a new site, even though I was the individual responsible for building it.

The 20 Year Race

There are a number of significant hurdles to actually effectively measuring authority, however in the short-term there are more obvious solutions. Writing an article on a website is not actually an effective indicator of my actual influence or authority on its own. Instead, a smart algorithm would need to understand who I communicate with regularly to determine who actually trusts me. Right now, Facebook’s only measurements of trust is Facebook messages (which aren’t used for personal message exchanges among all users) and the frequency with which I view and individual’s profile, something which doesn’t necessarily indicate trust, just interest.

True authority and influence carries over to our day-to-day interactions. For those in the business world, these interactions take place over email and phone calls. Google already has access to this information for hundreds of millions of people through their Gmail service and Google Voice service. While there are privacy issues about implementing this data for use in search algorithms, I have no doubt that one day the data will be used for such purposes. Right now Facebook and Google are fighting a multi-decade fight to slowly encourage consumers to become more transparent.

Without increased transparency, there’s no way that the future of search will be possible. Even more important is that measuring authority and influence is critical to the future of information discovery and search.

A Wild Vision

Let’s be honest though: this system sounds kind of scary (even a bit big brother-like). Whether or not Google and Facebook are intentionally moving in this direction, it’s a natural evolution. In the short-term however, things do not appear as invasive. Facebook is simply trying to surface the most relevant information that our friends are sharing. As such, they are developing tools that make it easier for us to share. Such a vision doesn’t sound completely scary.

Ultimately there’s no way that Facebook would ever confirm that they are hoping to more efficiently measure authority and influence than anybody else, however that’s what a lot of their services are now accomplishing. The newest product to help accomplish this long-term vision is reportedly a full-fledged email client that the company will launch on Monday.

What Facebook’s Gmail Killer Could Provide

So what does this “Gmail killer” provide? While we have no idea, there are a number of features that would make a ton of sense and there are also a few rumors already circulating:

  • The next developer platform – Most significant would be the inbox as an open platform. Up until now, the only thing that you could attach to an email is a file, however this doesn’t make sense. Users should be able to attach any type of object, including custom objects as defined by application developers. Want to send a deal of the day to your friend? You can send that structured information to them as an attachment. Want to send a song? Rather than sending the MP3 file, while not send a reference to a file that exists somewhere else and can played directly within the message via and application-specific music player? Whatever the service, the concept of email as a platform is a compelling one for developers.
  • Organization by strength of relationship – While Google has attempted to build a “smart inbox”, their latest system, “Priority Inbox”, doesn’t work so great. Instead, I need to manually increase and decrease the relevance of emails, which isn’t exactly the most useful thing.
  • Document integration – Right now Google has Google Docs, which helps increase productivity by making shared documents only a click away. According to ZDnet, Facebook could provide access to Microsoft Web Apps (or Microsoft Office for the web). Such an integration would be ground-breaking for Facebook.

The most significant thing about the possibility of a new Facebook email system is that Facebook would be suddenly moving into the world of productivity, something which until now has been the antithesis of Facebook. In essence, a Facebook email service would mark a new era for the company, bringing it to the forefront of digital communications. While the race for measuring authority and influence is easily a 20-year task, Facebook is taking one strategic-step after the other in the right direction.

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