Will this social fad ever stop? Saul Hansell at the New York Times is reporting on two similar initiatives by Google and Yahoo to leverage their web email platforms, along with their personalized home pages, into a new breed of social network. I think Hansell’s title is somewhat misleading because neither really has much to do with email. Instead, their sights seem clearly focused on Facebook and its kin.
Somehow, I find it hard to get excited for Google and Yahoo’s “revolutionary” twists on the inbox. Perhaps it’s just a case of social media fatigue, but it seems as if there really isn’t anything new here. It’s a shame, both are surely capable of new and innovative products, and yet here they are stuck playing this game of catch up. Isn’t this Microsoft’s territory? In fact, from the little we learn in the article, it appears as if they’re both attempting to become Netvibes.
You may remember Netvibes as another one of those AJAX personal start pages in the vein of iGoogle or MyYahoo. It’s never really gotten all the praise that it deserves, but it has become one of my favorite web 2.0 applications. What makes it a truly stand out product in my mind is the almost overwhelming amount of widgets and other functionality that it provides.
One of the newest additions to the site are Universes–customized Netvibes pages that are created by content managers (and soon individual users), and then made available to the public. To get an idea of what I mean, you can check out Gametrailer’s Netvibes Universe. When the feature is made available to individual users, every Netvibes user will end up with a private page (their current Netvibes setup), and a public page which they can use to share interesting content, widgets, or whatever they like.
This seems awfully similar to the eventual master plan for Yahoo’s “Inbox 2.0”. Their collaboration of webmail and personal start page will also amount to users offering a public page for their friends to see, and another private page which aggregates all sorts of other useful information. Unfortunately, Google was a lot less descriptive on their plans, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it shared many similarities with Netvibes.
It seems as if what Google and Yahoo are really offering is an easier to use Netvibes. It’s difficult to explain to non-techy friends what Netvibes is exactly and why they would want to visit your public Universe. It’s a lot easier for them to transition from their Yahoo or Google webmail into a new service by those companies. If that’s the case, then Netvibes really needs to step up and finally make this feature available to their users. It was initially announced at the beginning of August, and it’s surprising they haven’t yet been able to roll it out.
Hopefully once everyone has gotten over the social media fad we can get back to improving basic services–perhaps even a real Inbox 2.0? Gmail was certainly a useful new twist, but in effect all it did was change the way we filed and read email. Also, it was launched three and a half years ago, so it’s not really the freshest thing on the block anymore. I don’t deny that future iterations of email may involve social features, but they will certainly spend more time focusing on making our email experience better, rather than data mining our inbox and contact lists.