Is Facebook replacing email?

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I love platforms in general and Facebook in particular.  And since I’ve been thinking about messaging recently (see my post yesterday on Twitter as my new instant messenger) I’ve been noticing the increasingly varied methods I use to communicate.  I’m curious if others have also experienced a trend away from old school email. In particular I’m seeing an increase in the volume of messaging on Facebook – from Jeff suggesting on my wall that I try out Twhirl (in response to a tweet about a Snitter problem I was having) to old high school buddies re-connecting through direct message. And I’m not even a heavy Facebook user.

A few months ago my partner Jason conducted a poll of online behavior of a few hundred undergraduates at his alma matter (unscientific for sure, but still extremely interesting).  Among the things discovered was that among this group about 20% were almost exclusively using Facebook as their main messaging platform.  A friend told me recently that his kids (14 and 17) laugh at him about sending email (all of their messaging is done over Facebook).  Definitely a trend to pay attention to.

I’m curious what others experiences have been.  Let me know.

  • Aziz Grieser

    Yeah, this is all very interesting to pay attention to. Hurts companies like Xobini, who want users to use email and their software service, no? Then again, MSFT owns Xobini and a bit of Facebook, so either is fine for them I guess.

    • sethlevine

      true, although there's still a ton of traffic running through exchange/outlook. and if you believe some of my commenters below, it will always be that way….

  • Neekolas

    Email is increasingly becoming the new snail-mail for me. The ratio of junk/content is too high and much of the information is redundant (like the reminder that I just got a facebook message). Facebook has relevancy, and they have a platform that includes many more layers of control and trust (knowing the nature of my relationship to everyone/thing that sends me a message). Even more importantly, it is uniform on both sides of the communication. If I have xobni, allowing me to hone in on messages from my good friends, I still have no idea what is going on on the other side of the communication. Is my message in the other persons spam folder? Was this their work or home address? Are they on the verge of email bankruptcy? Those are problems that likely have to be solved at the protocol level, if they get solved at all.

    I suspect many more people are going to move their social interaction exclusively to facebook. (Full Disclosure: I'm 22)

    • sethlevine

      look at the contrast between your comment and the one below from MikeK – good example of the trend i'm highlighting in my post (i don't know MikeK's age, but assume he's of my generation (I'm 35) not yours. of course some of what you are describing as the benefits of FB communication are not inherent to FB – they're the byproduct of the medium being relatively new (and therefore not corrupted yet). then again, a lot of what you are describing is….

  • MikeK

    90%+ of the people I exchange emails with don't have a Facebook account. Granted these are mostly business interactions and the people on the other end are past their 20s. Asked several of them if they would join FB and got a polite “no thanks, have absolutly no interest in Facebook”. All of this is obviously anecdotal but possibly a reflection of what is still “out there”. FB is relevant to only a small fraction of the people active on the Internet.

    • sethlevine

      i seeing this experience change, mike. its not just for social communication (at least in my experience). part of what i'm pointing out is reflected in the difference between your comment and the one above from Neekolas (who is 22) – its a changing landscape…

      • I have quite a few employees under 25 and most have friended me on FB, but none have ever sent me a business email on FB. They have only posted casual or humorous comments on my wall or photos. Honestly after looking at the profiles with the risque college and some recent party pics I am surprised they friend me at all. 🙂

  • Rob

    Nope, it's not. Facebook messages are used by people my age (24) to plan a party, ask to crash on a couch, and flirt with that hot blonde chick in your Russian Lit class. Facebook is not used for routine, business-y type communication. College and recently post-college students just don't use facebook for work or anything that resembles work. For example, how often to TechStars guys send you FB messages as opposed to emails? And even the rare case that they do write on your wall, is it not generally light smalltalk with an attempt at humor? Facebook communication amongst people my age is just not for serious stuff.

    What could change this is if Facebook offered a full email/message experience that brought both my fb messages and email into one interface but prioritized the FB messages. I would probably be tempted to use FB messages more often in that case…

    • Rob

      as soon as I wrote this comment, I saw this ReadWriteWeb article that hits the facebook is not for business theme…

      • Aziz Grieser

        Facebook is a social network for friends that attended college or grad school together when Facebook was launched, MySpace became the deFacto for non-college attending folks and musicians, LinkedIn snatched up the business-people's invite-only networking community before Facebook created close walls, and finally, fills the business startup social network niche. They all serve a different purpose, and each has a large audience that needs that service.

    • My anecdotal experience supports this post. As a marketing company we “play” with facebook among our staff to look for and research facebook app and advertising opportunities and I have found that many of our “recent college grads (we have about 15) ” had significantly slowed their facebook usage after college (You can see history of heavy use on their account). One had even deleted hers with several hundred friends because she was tired of keeping up with it, but able to get it back for our experiments. It seems once you get past hooking up, partying, and posting pics of parties, the value drops for at least some of the recent college grad crowd.

      Seth I think you are so twittered/facebooked/web20ed out that you dont realize that for most of use these apps just dont have scale among people we care to communicate with. 🙂

      I personally think FB is a decent networking tool and it is also a good way to “market” yourself among peers by showing a more causal and personal side of yourself.

      • sethlevine

        i laughed when i read the line “you are so twittered/facebooked/web20ed out” – totally true and its sometimes hard to get out of the bubble each of us lives in. great comments on this post (which is why i posed the question) help for sure.

    • I so disagree. I am finding Twitter and FB better vehicles for communication mostly because there is less other noise than email. Take today for example. In a three hour flight between Denver and DC, I got 13 facebook messages (actual communications), 7 direct tweets and 78 emails (plus ~125 in junk). Its 11:30pm, guess which I dont check very carefully.

      Any rhetoric and communications class will discuss the importance of reducing the interferance in ensuring that messages are 1) heard; 2) received; 3) acted on.

      Email is almost a lost cause for me.

      • sethlevine

        glad at least one comment agrees with me on this one, micah! facebook on!

        • Aziz Grieser

          That's why you have a work email address. Take 2 work email addresses if need be, and reserve one for only the most important people/activities.

          Twitter is cool, but I waste too much time on the 50+ random tangents/minute I get. I'm also getting spam now. “OutsourcetoIndia” is not a random person interested in following my twitters. Twitter is great, but it needs some serious help IMO.

  • Paul Freet

    Short answer, uh, no.

    Seth, have you just jumped the shark?

    Facebook is fashion. And Twitter is narcissism.

    • sethlevine

      thanks for keeping me honest, paul! we'll see in a few years whether this is a non-trend or a real shift away from email. it may be that people just shift their social communication to fb and other similar platforms, although that would still be a pretty important change in user behavior (and from my perspective has press significant implications for investment opportunities).

      • Paul Freet

        The 140 character limit to Twitter prevents it form replacing email. I think it adds to it. It is a new way to communicate, but only to your 'followers'.

        Communicating inside of a social network requires that everyone you wish to communicate be inside of your network. Today Facebook is hot, but yesterday it was MySpace and tomorrow it might be Bebo. Those are closed networks. And closed networks eventually fail, ask AOL. So, make an overlay of all of the social networks, but that is called the Internet. And email sure seems to work well and be universal.

        Will new ways to communicate come along? Absolutely. Will they replace email? No. In the same way email didn't replace the telephone.

  • I am a senior in college and I have noticed that most people I know on facebook take advantage of the wallposts more than anything. I really only use email (along with others) to submit homework and receive assignments. All of my teachers have really broken away from handing out tests by hand and timing them in class. Now I submit almost eveyrrhing graded via email. As for friends I have really noticed most of them using facebook for everything and now that they have chat (and they set it up the week before finals) everything is slowly leaning in the direction of email becoming snail mail (I believe what another post said). The facebook is fashion couldn't be better stated.

    • sethlevine

      mary – you're the 2nd person to call email the “new snail mail” – both under 25. i think what some of the other commenters are missing is that they are not the market i'm really talking about (i.e., this is a trend that is happening as people in your generation are moving from college to the workplace)…

  • I see. You have a great post with some excellent thoughts. Love hearing the different takes on this subject. Yes 22 in case you wanted to get a better idea. The trend and shift between generations is fun to follow and interesting to hear about.

  • to each his/her own these days. my kids use facebook and text messaging for the most part but now that they have email on their phones (bberry and iphone) they use that as well, but it's not their primary messaging system.

    i still use email as my primary method, but as someone else said, it's the new snail mail. i hate doing it and its a chore. i called it “homework” on twitter today. that's how i feel about it.

    i find text messaging and twitter are best for me, but they will only be better for a while. they will get more noisy and i'll have to move to something else.

    i don't use facebook messaging at all. when people send me facebook messages, they are talking to a black hole

  • Boris

    I think unless facebook cleans up and streamlines its messaging platform, it will never really come to overtake e-mail (as a background I'm 23…). My message box is already full of spam from various people (including people who I absolutely do not remember) and even people from my college that I didn't even know. Until Facebook finds a way to seriously clean up its echo-system, I think it will never move past the stage of being a communication tool for young people looking to waste their time at work.

    Sending multiple emails is also sooo much faster via gmail and outlook – i need at least several clicks to send and then delete one message…

  • I would have to agree with the numbers. From my experience many of my friends will send me a Facebook message over an email any day. One of the reasons I believe this happens is that they have not been taught how to properly use or write email. While they are not sending Facebook messages for business purposes most of the time, I still find that many people are sloppy message writers.

    • sethlevine

      great point. there's clearly an expectation on fb that the communication will be more “loose”. of course, email used to be like that (exclusively) and while obviously many people clearly don't know proper email etiquette it's now considered completely reasonable for companies to use email for important business communication. so perhaps one of these years facebook communication will raise a few notches as well…

      • Seth,

        I switched my username to Dave, because some people thougtht I was spamming. Now to the task at hand. I definitely think communication on Facebook will mature much like all other forms of communication do. Facebook is a great networking tool, and with that will come the professionalism of proper communication.


        • sethlevine

          it's been interesting to watch how my own communication patterns have changed over the last 6 months, dave. i definitely find that i'm on facebook messaging more (although still generally for personal rather than professional communication). definitely something i'm still watching….

  • facebookless fool

    AB-SO-Lutely. I am 24 and I have never had Facebook. I went to a college where every student was issued a laptop, and there was wireless internet all over campus. EVERYONE was on FB–all the time. It was rather gradual, but I noticed a decline in people on AIM and MSN which I used to use regularly to keep in touch with friends. Then I noticed that I was getting far less casual email from my friends, and that the email I did receive from them were shorter and less formal. Now that I've graduated I've lost touch with a lot of really close friends because they simply don't use email for casual social communication. I had to make sure to get phone numbers from everyone who I wanted to stay remotely in touch with, but talking on the phone is simply not as convenient since responding or sending messages on FB can be done whenever without worrying about interrupting someone or not getting ahold of them. Bottom line: Facebook has (mostly) replaced email as the device for casual communication for younger generations.

    • foolishlessness

      People will always want professional and casual communication to be easily separable. That said, I don't think FB will replace email for Professional/Formal communication anytime soon unless, as someone suggested earlier, FB comes up with a separate but integrated inbox system. Maybe we just need the capability of having 2 or 3 profiles under the same account. One for business, one for friends, one for family.

    • sethlevine

      great perspective. thanks for the comment.