The Email Cockroach Lives Another Day

After cleansing myself of multiple generations of email list subscriptions over the years, I’m surprised at how happy I now am to receive automated alerts every morning from services like Groupon, RueLaLa and Travelzoo. Maybe offer-based newsletters are just more relevant than they used to be; maybe they’ve figured out the right time to get me. In any event, not only am I not upset to see the emails in my inbox, but I actually open many of them.

If you believed prognosticators, you might have thought email was well on its way to death by irrelevance with an assist by spam. But now, as of today, email will also be the primary way Facebook applications correspond with users. That’s because, in an effort to give application makers more responsibility and control of their communications, Facebook will now allow apps to require an email address (or an anonymized Facebook proxy). In the short term, it could mean a lot more clutter in your inbox, as apps notify you of receipts for things you’ve purchased, remind you to come back and visit them, and tell you about new feature launches. But eventually, that should normalize as you uninstall the ones that abuse their email privileges.

What application makers used to do was tell you of such happenings via Facebook notifications, which are being phased out. Facebook is actually weakening its own platform status by pulling itself out as a middleman and encouraging apps to correspond directly with their users. In the past, social web platforms were much more controlling of their users. Not to knock on Ning (though it can probably take it), but I remember a few years ago trying to contact the members of a group I ran there. The only way to do so was via a mass email to every member, written in a tiny form field on Ning’s site that continually timed out and deleted my message when I tried to send it. Ning has certainly fixed the bug by now, but in a broader sense the tide has clearly shifted.

So much so that some application developers are concerned that emailing users will be less effective than contacting them through channels on Facebook.

Further reading:

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my bio.