Houston: Social networking site Facebook may soon offer e-mail services to its 500 million members to compete gmail and yahoomail, making it the largest such service on the planet.
More significantly, the offering could lead to a fundamental transformation of e-mail.
Yahoo, Google and Microsoft are already scrambling to retool their e-mail services to build them more around people's social connections.
Facebook would have a tremendous advantage because it owns a vast trove of data about people's relationships and would find it easier to graft e-mail onto its existing social services such as photo-sharing.
The launch of the new service will be made official on Monday.
Together with a likely announcement of a strategic alliance with Microsoft to incorporate the functionality of Facebook in the Office applications.
The new e-mail Facebook will integrate fully the social network, using the working model of the network of friends.
An ecosystem of communication 'sensitive' to the world of relationships of people, able to combine text, pictures, music and video in a single container of communications.
And to give this information flow a priority based on the social context of each.
More than just e-mail and then, a real office staff to assess the quality of communication and understand what is more important or is most dear to you.
All this added a social network that is already the world's most used vehicle for sharing information, photos, videos, activities and causes.
Every month there are about 25 billion content that Facebook users make available to the network of "friends" Digital.
If it is announced, a Facebook e-mail service would allow its more than 500 million members to communicate with anyone inside or outside the walls of the social network.
If they use it, Facebook would leapfrog the 361 million global users of Windows Live Hotmail, Yahoo Mail's 273 million users and Gmail's 193 million.
However, a Facebook e-mail service would be most remarkable not for the size of its network, but for how it could use its web of social connections to transform one of the oldest -- and perhaps still the most important -- functions of the Internet.
"There is a huge opportunity for these guys to fundamentally change the nature of e-mail," said Matt Cain, an analyst for the research firm Gartner who expects Facebook to unveil an external e-mail service Monday.
Imagine, Cain said, a Facebook system that could prioritise mail from any external source based on the closeness of your relationship to the sender, or that allows you to easily flip a one-to-one e-mail exchange into a conversation with a group of friends.
Facebook now offers an internal message service that is less functional than most Web-based e-mail, and only allows members to communicate with other Facebook accounts.
But Facebook may hope to use a new external e-mail service to capture even more adherents, said Augie Ray, senior analyst for social computing for Forrester Research.
Forrester says that while about 90 per cent of US adults check e-mail regularly, only 59 per cent use social networking tools for this purpose.
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