Email Is The Last, And Ultimate, Social Graph

One of the magical innovations of the Web 2.0 era was when the bigger social platforms opened their doors to third-party app developers. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter widely touted ,and profited from, the concept of allowing consumers to plug their social graph into other applications.

We saw the meteoric rise of games, apps and business tools that leverage the ability to quickly insert value into the relationship.

RIP, Good Times.

Over the past few months, developers have had the door slammed in their face. Facebook shut down their API. LinkedIn has locked down their API, limiting access to a small number of partners who drive revenue for LinkedIn (recruiting related). Twitter has been doing this too, so one would be a fool to build anything reliant on any of these platforms.

Snapchat, which only came into existence because of its ability to quickly scrape your social connections, has so far made it clear it will not support any third-parties. WhatsApp? Nope. Even more damning to the open Internet and consumer benefit, these social platforms are now locking your data in their walled garden.

As unfortunate as this is, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. When you aren’t paying for a product, you are the product. The information you spent years carefully crafting in these platforms is merely another asset — an asset that product managers and shareholders demand to be protected from a competitor.

Proprietary platforms had their shot, and developers are walking away with a bloody nose.

How good can a communication medium be if, intended to extend human knowledge and possibilities, you can’t access it freely?

With all the ongoing churn and swirl around these proprietary social graphs, there remains the uncle in the corner of the party — the guy on whom you could always rely. Email!

Since its inception, email has been the best invention in the information age — right on the level of TCP/IP and HTTP. Why?

It’s ubiquitous. Every device. Every kind of network. Every system. Every person. Everyone has an email address, and anything can be built to accept email. Because of this, everyone can be represented online via a unique email identity.

It’s asynchronous. Stream-based collaboration tools are all about communication at the moment. When I sign on to our team portal in the morning, I easily could miss everything posted since last night, focusing on what I can see in the window. IM is even worse, if I’m not signed on at the moment, that message is gone. Email is designed to be asynchronous.

It’s democratic. Email as a standalone product has no central controlling authority, unlike a Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. A threat to email and its dependencies would be treated as a direct threat to the Internet itself, and any profiteer wouldn’t dare end it.

It’s open. While spam filters keep out the garbage, and do an increasingly good job, it’s still the most reliable way to reach out to someone, especially a new contact.

It’s dirt cheap. Sending an email costs nothing. Sending lots of email, you’re paying an email marketing company fractions of a penny per contact to ensure deliverability. How much would it cost to engage purely via LinkedIn InMails, or how limited would you be if you could only communicate via Facebook Messenger?

It (can be) forever. I’m not sure I ever sent any messages on Friendster, but what happened when they shut down? Any communication and contacts I made that were locked into that platform are gone forever. Emails reside freely on servers indefinitely, requiring true dedication to ensure they are actually erased.

It’s adaptable. Just as with the basic packet design of TCP/IP, wonders can, have and will continue to be built on top of the simple protocol. The attempts at complete replacement of email have lost, while the innovators of email have thrived.

How good can a communication medium be if you can’t access it freely?

With the Internet having matured into the profit-driven current era of technology, it’s hard to imagine any social medium coming to rise that offers the same value as email.

Sure, there are services like CircleBack and FullContact can and do connect to other platforms (calendar feeds are a distant cousin). But as any of them will attest, email is the predominant source of valuable data. Tools like Yesware, ToutApp and Boomerang are able to fill in the gaps of what we need email to do nowadays.  

Proprietary platforms had their shot, and developers are walking away with a bloody nose. It’s up to us, the crafters of software, the early adopters, the mavens, to support truly open standards and the companies investing in their future.

Rumors of email’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.