The Zimbra opportunity: A true social network

Email offers real data on my social graph. Why not pull from Zimbra to create a true social network?

One of the primary problems with sites like Facebook and MySpace is that they provide a somewhat specious view of one's "social graph" (dumb but popular way of saying "true network of relationships"). I have ~2,400 people in my address book, but only a fraction of those are true "friends" in the sense that normal people use the term. My email system (as well as my phone records and IM history) knows exactly who are my real friends (as Tim O'Reilly frequently notes). Friendship without communication is...not really friendship.

Now the New York Times is reporting that Google and Yahoo are merging social networking into the place where most true networks converge: email.

Ignore Orkut, OpenSocial, Yahoo Mash and Yahoo 360. Google and Yahoo have come up with new and very similar plans to respond to the challenge from MySpace and Facebook: They hope to turn their e-mail systems and personalized home page services (iGoogle and MyYahoo) into social networks.

Web-based e-mail systems already contain much of what Facebook calls the social graph - the connections between people.

That's why the social networks offer to import the e-mail address books of new users to jump-start their list of friends. Yahoo and Google realize that they have this information and can use it to build their own services that connect people to their contacts.

The major problem I see with these services is that they're not reflective of the email account in which people spend most of their lives: their work email.

Enter Zimbra. Zimbra offers an enterprise-class email system that also allows users to integrate their personal email accounts (using POP and IMAP). More and more enterprises are going with Zimbra, and more and more social services (like Wikipedia, Facebook, etc.) have been integrated with Zimbra.

So here's the challenge for Zimbra/Yahoo: let users center their social lives in Zimbra, which is a more natural way to collaborate than a web site like MySpace. Help developers to connect their site data into Zimbra to make it a rich ecosystem of social data/graphs/whatever. Then record and meaningfully display the true social graph revealed by email/IM (Yahoo IM)/phone (VoIP integration with Zimbra is hot) records.

I would pay for that. I'd use that happily. I'd give up more of my personal information to glean real value from that data. And I'd be happy to have Zimbra do the same.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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