The blogosphere is abuzz over what Facebook will launch during its announced press event in San Francisco Monday.
Few doubt that it will be a new email client. Rumors point to an internal "Project Titan", and Facebook spent most of this week feuding with Google over data portability of email addresses. Not to mention that the press conference invitation features the Facebook inbox icon.
Speculation rather comes down to features and touch points with Facebook's social graph. What form will it take and where will it reside? Besides the colloquial "FMail," generally I predict tight integration and a simple interface that lowers barriers for email converts.
You'll hear lots of "GMail killer" claims, but I'm not convinced. Gmail users are a loyal bunch and it's a damn good mail client. GMail will remain the client for the tech elite while a prospective FMail serves the proletariat. In doing so, it will overthrow the incumbents that currently hold that office.
Of course I'm talking about Yahoo, Hotmail, et al. -- woefully behind the times and deserving of disruption. Rather than upgrading to GMail, FMail will compel users to leapfrog directly to a new shiny email service that plugs right into the social graph where they interact daily.
Facebook will accomplish this with massive mainstream reach, to the tune of half a billion users. It will sweeten the deal with a pre-populated address book that maps to your social graph, and plugs in to features like photos and events (it's the most popular site site in the world on both counts).
Through all of this, Facebook not only ties together its growing stockpile of social components, but also -- more importantly -- boosts session lengths and page views. Here's where Facebook could considerably grow the estimated $2 billion it already makes from display ads.
As for the form FMail will take, users will likely be offered @facebook addresses (land grab!) and POP support for third party clients like Outlook. But where will it otherwise reside: inside (as it currently does) or outside of Facebook?
The latter would be true to the definition of mail client, but the former true to Facebook's structure. It continues to lay bricks on what is essentially a walled garden. Didn't we determine about a decade ago -- as AOL began to unravel -- that this model wasn't the way forward?
Here, the irony is thick: The disputed champion for most successful media company in the world is returning to this very model. After the announcement, we'll know more about this particular brick in the wall.
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