Will Facebook Employees Get a Shorter Email Domain, or Will Users?

Multiple sources have been saying for weeks that a new Facebook email service, dubbed “Project Titan” internally, is coming soon. And with the company’s invite to an event in San Francisco on Monday featuring an “Inbox” logo in the email, it seems to be hinting at it too.

So, here’s the latest we’re hearing.

Users’ vanity URLs are probably the first part of the email address, like what MySpace provided when it launched its email program last year. But it’s possible that the domain could be something shorter than vanity@facebook.com, like @fb.com.

The domain fb.com is registered by brand protection firm MarkMonitor and its owner is concealed. In September, DomainNameWire reported that the previous owner of fb.com, the American Farm Bureau, sold the address to an unknown owner. MarkMonitor has also represented high-profile clients like Google and Apple in the past.

There are other shortened domain possibilities. Fbmail.com is registered by web hosting company Dotster, Inc., while fmail.com is owned by another domain reseller Tucows., Inc. Tucows has represented Dell in the past.

Facebook could own some or all of these, but may or may not use them. It also owns fb.me, which it has used as a URL shortener for links on mobile devices.

The company has so far given @facebook.com accounts to employees. It might switch them to shorter domains, in order to give users the full Facebook name. It could also do what MySpace did, and give its employees a longer doman, such as ___@facebook-inc.com

We covered some ways that Facebook could potentially add email to its Messages system yesterday. But we can also think of a few broader implications for the ecosystem:

1) How will developers take advantage of Facebook email as a new stronger viral channel to reach users? For the past year, developers have had to grapple with weaker viral channels as Facebook shut down notifications from apps to users, pressuring larger social gaming companies to depend more on advertising to find new users. The company has also encouraged third-party developers to ask for user email addresses directly, so it wouldn’t have to be the middle-man in app spam and suffer potential ill will. A facebook.com email address would give developers new opportunities to reach out to users directly.

2) Facebook will finally have most of the tools necessary to track strong ties as well as weak ones. For years, the company has touted its product as a way for users to keep in touch with hundreds of friends and strengthen so-called weak ties, or distant acquaintances. But the friends a user interacts with don’t necessarily correlate with what their closest friendships really are. With the introduction of Places and Groups, the company is now collecting the data to see who a person really spends time with or who they think is important enough to include in a small group of friends. Email adds another layer on top of this; who a person privately emails regularly is a stronger signal of a deep relationship than who they tend to comment on or like.

3) Facebook will have to come up with a new justification for blocking Google from importing its contact information. For the past week, Facebook and Google have been embroiled in a rather ugly public fight over whether the social network should reciprocate and let users export their friends’ email addresses to Gmail. Facebook responded that because it’s a social network, data ownership is different — users own their own information, but they do not own the information of their friends. If Facebook makes an entry into the email space, it will either need to let users export their friends’ email address or it will need to explain itself and its double standard for data portability.

Lastly, Facebook could tie email in with a broader suite of products from third parties — like what it’s rumored to be doing with Microsoft’s Office Web Apps.