Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Why kids are moving to Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and away from email

October 19th, 2007 by Seb Chan

I’ve been watching a lot of people using computers over the past few months and it struck me how many of them were using web-based email services – the more tech savvy were on Gmail, and the more casual users gravitated towards Hotmail and Yahoo Mail despite their flaws. An even smaller number used webmail interfaces from their own ISP. Like all websites and online services, they all have their own specific demographics of users.

Now most professionals I know use a mail client to read their email – not webmail – sometimes still on a central server, and sometimes downloading it to their own laptops, desktops. But I think that this sort of behaviour is moving further form the norm. Nick Carr has already speculated on cloud computing (which is like a return to mainframes and thin-clients), and web-based email is one of the first mass-conusumer adoptions of this.

In a world where attention time is not expanding (the old ‘only 24 hours in the day’ problem) but attention choices are, it makes perfect sense that casual internet users will migrate their communication needs from a web-based email service to a web-based social networking service. Anecdotally I’d claim that casual web-based email users are probably emailing a small core group of friends regularly and occasionally using their email to apply for jobs and interact with companies, but the majority of their communication is personal and lightweight. Being lightweight the need to archive and search is less important than say for a business email account.

These casual users are already logging in to a website regularly to ‘check their email’ so it is more efficient for them to use login to a social networking website where they can do the same email check and keep track of their friends. In a way this is also a way of filtering communication – email has become so clogged with spam and unwanted communication that social networking services offer a way of filtering the noise – although this is likely only a tangential driver.

Thus we’ve started to see the decline of Hotmail coincide with the rise of Facebook and other services. Whilst it is harder to pull accurate figures out of Yahoo Mail and Google Mail because of the popularity of their www domains, the trends are fascinating. (Remember these are US figures only)

We’ve known for a long time that our e-marketing campaigns need to start looking beyond email – especially for those users who use a web-based email service. Some of us have tried social networking sites, but I wonder how many have analysed their existing email lists and calculated how many email addresses on their current lists are web-based email services, and then correlated that against read and action/conversion rates?

Tags: 13 Comments

  • William Straw

    Very nice piece on young people moving to web-based mail, Seb. Hope all is well.

    Will

  • Giv

    It’s also worth mentioning that the disk space limit on these webmail services is a huge incentive for migrating from desktop mail clients to the browser. I like the idea of keeping an archive of all my emails but I would much rather save my disk space for more important things like music. On that note, I was shocked to discover Gmail’s disk space (per user) has gone from 2.9gig to 3.9gig in only 1 week.

  • lyndak

    Hey Seb, just sat through a week of focus groups with poeple aged 18-30 and how they use the net. Of course FB formed a huge part of the discussions. They reported that not only do they not use email so much, preferring to do it all through FB, they also used their mobile fones differently and weren’t texting as much.

    I’m curious that these posts cover young people as I think if we start looking at people in older groups (30’s-50’s) we may also see this trend. Personally that’s the case for me – FB has not only cut my personal email through work pretty much by 2/3rds, it has enabled me to connect and reconnect with people on new levels, both work colleagues and old friends.

    In my recent online survey of how Australians are using the web, 34% reported that they used a social networking site in the past month (compared with 19% of US respondents in the Forrester study, altho that one was done in Nov 2006 so may account for the difference).

  • Seb Chan

    Lynda,

    I think the real difference in terms of age lies in the propensity to use web-based tools vs desktop tools. Thus, email for most is not about opening Outlook (or similar), it has been logging on to a web-based email service – Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail. Perhaps because of this, the nature of communication that occurs on these services has been typically, by necessity, lightweight.

    The flow on effect of this is a lessening of commitment to a particular service. The liberation of moving to web-based tools – as Giv points out – offers significant other benefits. It also allows portability.This portability means that SN services that support stored communications are better able to capture attention.

    What we don’t see yet, though, is portability between SN services. The great thing about email has been standards – but try contacting a MySpace account from Facebook . . .

  • lyndak

    Do you think that mobile technologies will take over in the future? I’m wondering whether desktops (and therefore the type of tools you talk about like Outlook) will have had their day at some point. I remember reading somewhere where 1/3 of Japanese teens have never used a desktop, or even a laptop, as they were totally using their mobile whatevers to access the web.

    In our focus groups they had really moved on from MySpace. They felt that MySpace was all about promoting yourself and very hard to use, whereas FB was about networks and easy to manage and use. Most of them had either closed their MySpace accounts or not had one in the first place.

    The one exception was in the creators group where a guy in a band uploaded music to MySpace – seems that’s still the place for this kind of activity, and maybe FB for app development? I must say that’s one of most impressive FB features for me – the amount of people developing apps that are both fun as well as useful.

  • lyndak
  • Seb Chan

    Desktops will change – already there is in some sectors the beginnings of a shift back to employees bringing their own computers in to work – which currently means laptops. And then there is working from home, the casualisation/’freelancer’-isation of the white collar workforce – which all contribute to demand for mobile computing.

    MySpace and bands – for bands MySpace has totally different utility value, it isn’t ‘just’ for lighweight communication. Once a band has a MySpace site, the lock-in is very significant.

    Facebook and applications – I think you will find that the platform nature of Facebook is spreading to other SN sites. MySpace already announced their platform and Google’s Orkut as well as LinkedIn all have things in the pipeline. The reality of Facebook apps is that there are only a very small number of apps ‘everyone’ uses, developed by an increasingly small group of developers and companies. Also, a great deal of the FB apps are simply conversational tools – which is fine, but I’m not so sure that we should be getting so overly excited about zombie biting.

  • lyndak

    Ooh, I quite liked my (rather short-lived) periods as a vampire/pirate/water fight enthusiast! I have found some apps that have been useful and interesting, especially the election ones and delicious – I have found several new, relevant sites this way.

    I’m also wondering what effect SN sites like Facebook have had on blogging? I’m certainly doing less than I used to, although it is more targetted.

  • An interesting debate, and one which misses the point in so much as the uptake of web-based email services is down to the huge shift towards ‘open-source’ software, ie that which doesn’t cost and is developed by crowds (expert developers) who receive alternative rewards to traditional ‘cash’. The open source movement is facilitating the co-creation of a whole range of products and services, and is supported by new social media and the global expanse of broadband users. We study this phenomena and help our clients use the ‘crowd’ to innovate.

  • Seb Chan

    Stephen,

    As much as open source might be desirable and may provide some of the backbone of services, I can assure you that the ‘expert developers’ of Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail are indeed paid in very ‘traditional cash’. Likewise the users of these services may not ‘pay’ directly but as Geert Lovink and others argue, the users are indeed paying indirectly – through consumer profiling and the like.

    Consumers will flow to services which best ‘satisfice’ their needs and available budgets. The key point in my initial post is two fold. Firstly that a large majority of consumers rely primarily on web-based email services for email. Secondly, that because of this, they are likely to have the flexibility to shift the entirety of their communication needs to other web-based services like FB etc. This is a migration flexibility that users of POP3 mail services, and corporate mail servers don’t have as readily.

    Open source or not is very tangential to this argument, and indeed to user behaviour. Like the electrical wiring and the plumbing in your house, most people don’t really care to know what type of cabling or who makes the sewerage pipes – just that they work and service their immediate needs.

  • I really hope email dies out. It serves a purpose, not doubt, but it is severely overused. The opening up of social networks so that they are useful to people in business will be an important part of this. Bring on Social Network Portability!

  • Seb,
    Once again you’re ahead of the curve. Check out this article on the “death of E-mail”
    http://www.slate.com/id/2177969/
    Hope all is well with you.

  • Mobile content access have just started and it will be the coolest trend in next generations beyond e-mial -based server . I cant live without my cellphone neither without my friends. Sites like t9space.com compile all social networking wap sites and it is free