THE PREMISE: One hot online space to watch in 2008: that internet relic we call e-mail. Just when we all thought it was dead, thanks to the massive popularity of social networking, several companies are cropping up to dispel the myth that e-mail is a stodgy way to communicate and position it as the cornerstone of a more efficient social-media experience.
THE INVESTMENTS: Consider the moves web giants made late last year. Last fall, Yahoo bet on e-mail enough to drop $350 million to acquire Zimbra, an enterprise e-mail tool. And company execs supposedly are working on a way to use the massive Yahoo Mail service to create a more social-network-like environment. In December, Google began connecting its Reader service to Gmail. Its CEO, Eric Schmidt, explained the social graph last fall as simply address books with authentication.
THE NEWBIES: San Francisco-based Xobni -- "inbox" backward -- claims to identify the "hidden social network" within your e-mail. How? Xobni, a toolbar for Outlook, creates profiles for all the people you e-mail, including information such as conversation threads, e-mail habits (based on e-mail history) and additional contact information -- extracted automatically from auto signatures.
THE AD ANGLE: Will services such as Xobni will make money? And will making traditional web-based e-mail services such as Yahoo Mail and Gmail feel more like social networks create some sort of magic new ad format? Who knows? But what will undoubtedly continue to be important to marketers is determining the social relationships among people and how that affects online word-of-mouth and online reputation management. And if these services can create more-meaningful connections between people and help marketers understand those -- then watch out.