Brad Feld

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Email – The Original Social Graph

Jun 16, 2009

I’ve been an Internet email user since early 1984 when I got my first Project Athena account as an undergraduate at MIT.  Notwithstanding all the “email is dead” messages over the years, I continue to use email as my primary online communication mechanism.  There are an enormous number of things that frustrate me about email, most notably the lack of fundamental innovation in email clients and servers.  That said, as a messaging tool – it still dominates for me.

Several years ago I started saying that “my social graph is in email.”  I found it interesting that Facebook and LinkedIn used email as a primary messaging layer to remind me to come back to Facebook and LinkedIn respectively to check what was going on.  This signaled confirmation to me that these systems were making sure they were using the most persistent messaging layer to build and reinforce their social graphs.

For whatever reason, the primary email product providers have been either painfully slow at realizing this or have decided to ignore this.  Facebook and LinkedIn have benefitted massively from this, but the biggest recipient of this neglect is Twitter which has created an entirely new messaging protocol (think Twitter API as analogous to SMTP).

Suddenly, in the past year, entrepreneurs have woken up to the potential of the email social graph.  As I’ve mentioned before, we invested in Gist to directly address this opportunity.  Xobni is another well known company that is attacking this.  But another intriguing fact is the number of younger entrepreneurs that are working on this problem.  Each of the TechStars locations (Boulder and Boston) has a company that – at its core – is built around the premise of email as the original social graph.  In addition, as a mentor in the fbFund Rev 2009 program, I’ve recently started working with another company working on yet a different angle to this problem.

Now, these companies aren’t creating new email clients.  They are working on products or web services that take advantage of all the implicit information generated by your email activity.  They aren’t limited to just email (if you are a Gist user, you understand this well), but use email ( as a key information pivot point.  If you step back and think about it, while is new and full of yummy chocolaty goodness, is really my “unique” identifier.

I’m not going to talk about the three new companies I’m working with on this problem yet – I’ll let them “launch” on their own timetable and I’ll talk about them when they are ready.  In the mean time, I’ve continuing to look to talk to more people that share this premise.  If that’s you, feel free to email me.