I have been experiencing an interesting switch lately in my email experience, a switch that more and more users i am sure are noticing and a switch that will accelerate including in the traditional features we already know.
What is happening is that my email is becoming naturally more than a message tool : a social dashboard. We all use emails to send and receive messages but with all those new social platforms we start to subscribe (sometimes without knowing) to all kinds of alerts related to the activity of our friends on those platforms: we receive request for new friends, alert when you are tagged in a photo, when a comment is posted in a blog, when someone wants to add you in Linkedin, when someone send you a message on Facebook and so on...There are even services like Twittermail that enable you to control twitter from your email
I would not count the number of messages i could put in that category and of course there is absolutely no way i could keep track of that activity by going each time to all those services and trying to spot the changes. So on one side this is invading but on the other this is time saving and improving usage efficiency. [Btw if you are overwhelmed with alerts all good services allow you to control the pace and in addition you can set rules to classify them efficiently in your email (Gmail is perfect for that)]
The WebMail as a central social platform
My point is the following: since my email is becoming the central place (and i think the best place) where i am receiving all those messages it is becoming and should become the best place for monitoring my social activity. Specially if you consider that email is being accessed more and more from mobile. The only problem is that emails systems are not built for embracing the social revolution
We already have there our contact list (which is supposed to be the most important one with our mobile phone) but it is not really leveraged, the alert rules need to be set in each service and manually configured in the email system in order to structure by service or folders. Extending that thought further i think the email which is becoming a central social nervous system, should have embedded news feed for friends (like FriendsFeed) which you can as an option receive by email). A news feed is nothing else than a message you are receiving in your inbox, just like an email. Email should be a lot more convenient to manage our invitations (both to send and accept/reject them). All social networks already offer an contact book import but why not go all the way and ask email providers to offer that to users to simplify their like where they need it most.
What i am saying in a word is that email should be re invented in the light of the new social landscape that stands before us. Is there an opportunity to beat Gmail in it own land? Can a startup do that? Will Gmail do it before others (a few hints are coming up, more about that here)?
A few new services are trying to bridge that need: i referred above to TwitterMail, Outwit is helping a lot for those who wish to twit from Outlook but in my mind the reference for now remains Xobni that brings social DNA within your email (in addition to be an amazing mail search far better than google desktop or even X1). It maps best contacts within your inbox and provides useful tools to better connect with them. This is only step1. But a good beginning (looking forward to their web based version for gmail)
An inevitable evolution to social mail
This will inevitably happen because this would improve dramatically the way we manage our digital life but also because Social platforms with their internal messaging system are used more and more instead of email being a threat to email providers. Email providers can't let that happen can't let that happen of course...
Email providers will have to become social or will die as a main communication tool becoming just one among other services.