Sunday, March 14, 2010

E-mail as an online social network

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate." - Cool Hand Luke

One year, for my birthday, I got a Winnie the Pooh Stationery Box. I had some stationery with butterflies on it too, but I definitely liked Winnie the Pooh better. I used this stationery like it was my job. I used to write letters to my best friend on Long Island, my elementary school friends, my cousin and my aunts and uncles.

That stationery set was the last I ever received—because then we got a computer, and letters were out and e-mail was in.

E-mail is an often overlooked online experience. When we think about social networking, we often jump to sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or Twitter. But what about e-mail? Shouldn’t it be included too?

Think about it—every single student at this University has a account. So do TAs, professors, advisors, administrators—even departments have UMD addresses. Do they all have Facebook? No. MySpace? No. LinkedIn? No. Twitter? Half my friends don’t even understand what Twitter is, let alone have one. Whether or not we use our address or have it forwarded to another e-mail provider, we all have one. E-mail is an often overlooked social networking tool.

I guess it boils down to how you define social networking. defines online social networking as:

A Web site that provides a virtual community for people interested in a particular subject or just to "hang out" together. Members create their own online "profile" with biographical data, pictures, likes, dislikes and any other information they choose to post. They communicate with each other by voice, chat, instant message, videoconference and blogs, and the service typically provides a way for members to contact friends of other members.”

Now think about your email provider (or providers—I personally have 3 email addresses.) UMD mail is simpler than most, but if you have yahoo or gmail, hotmail or aol you probably have the majority of the options mentioned in the definition of online social networking. Admittedly, it lacks the glitz and glamour of sites like Facebook, but it definitely gets the job done. It connects you to people-whether 1-on-1 or 1-on-10 (etc.)-it allows you to share pictures, documents or folders, and it's private. Whereas many sites are specialized (Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for colleagues) email allows you to send pictures of your spring break trip to your friends, a list of snacks to your mother who's coming to UMD to save you from diner food, one of those super annoying messages about how you'll die in 10 days if you don't forward this story, or a cover letter and resume to a prospective employer.

So how 'bout it? How do you guys feel? Is e-mail online social networking or is it just a way for us to communicate?

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