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Email - Social Networking for the Masses

If you are plugged into the blogosphere, you may have read a bunch of stuff recently about email really being the big social network that most people aren't paying attention to.  Here are a few recent posts from bloggers I follow:

Tom Evslin

Om Malik

Brad Feld

Fred Wilson

Don Dodge

and, the New York Times

What all this means to me is that the new social networks (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) really only capture a fraction of the population.  And, I am skeptical that this style of social networking will rapidly expand beyond the younger generation and technically savvy users.  It will happen eventually, but I don't see a lot of people my age actively jumping into social networking, other than those in the industry like me.

Instead, email is the digital communications means that almost everyone has adopted.  Email contact lists show who are 'friends' are, although there isn't mutual permission to 'friend' someone like you have in Facebook.  There are also some new tools, like Xobni, that help you understand and manage email connections.  I used LinkedIn a lot to manage business contacts, and I find that their Outlook plug in helps me capture the social connections from my emails as well as remind me whom I might need to follow-up with and whom I haven't connected with for a while.

The only way that these types of social networking capabilities get adopted by the masses is if it is transparent and easy.  Leveraging the wealth of data in our own email is the easiest way to get started.  Whether the existing email providers find a way to do this or whether some entrepreneurs come up with the best way to do this remains to be seen.  I think that there are great opportunities here, both on the client side and the server side.

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