Analysts weigh in on effect of FaceMail on Google, Yahoo, others

November 16, 2010: 4:30 PM ET

Facebook's "don't call it email" email will have some effect on major email players, with Yahoo and MSN being exposed more than Google.

The first thing I thought of when Facebook released its FaceMail integrated product yesterday was that Google has SMS, email and IM built into GMail/Google Voice already (along with Voice, calendar and a slew of other stuff as well).  Perhaps Google's solution isn't as elegant and its attempts at integration were clumsy (Wave), but they have certainly been more powerful and more open. Analysts seem to agree, pointing out that Yahoo (YHOO) Mail and Microsoft's (MSFT) Hotmail are more exposed than Google (GOOG).  Below are four analysts takes:

William Blair's Meggan Friedman:

Implications and Investment Perspectives: Although it will take some time for the long-term effects of this new system to materialize, we view this as more of a near-term threat to Yahoo than to Google as we view email as being more central toYahoo's business model. Up until the announcement, the press had been speculating that Facebook would be launching a "Gmail killer"; however, we note that according to Compete, Yahoo Mail is the predominant e-mail client in the U.S., with nearly 73 million users and a 44% share. Hotmail follows with a 30% share, and then Gmail, with a 15% share. In addition, unlike Google, display ad revenues represent a much bigger portion of Yahoo's business and are influenced by users' engagement with Yahoo sites; as management noted at the Analyst Day in May, mail is the most important property at Yahoo for engagement.

As Facebook adds more functionality to its messaging system over time (including attach mentcapabilities and IMAP support so that external email accounts can be pulled into Facebook), we believe it could become a real competitor for Yahoo Mail (despite recent integrations with Facebook itself that allows Yahoo users to view and publish status updates within Yahoo Mail). In the future, webelieve Yahoo Mail users could eventually elect to consolidate the view of their messages through Facebook rather than physically visiting mail.yahoo.com. With user engagement already an ongoing concern for Yahoo, and with what we believe is the introduction of a potential threat to Yahoo Mail, we would look for a sustained improvement in engagement metrics before becoming more constructive on Yahoo.
We believe the risk is slightly lower for Gmail, as some of its organizational capabilities such as the ability assign tags to an e-mail or chat conversation affords more granular organization controls thanFacebook's messaging at present. We view Google as attractively valued at 17.8 times pro forma 2011 earnings, with continued strength in its core search business and renewed confidence in the materiality and growth prospects of the company's emerging display and mobile businesses, and we recommend purchase.

Wedbush's Lou Kerner:

The announcement of a major game-changing initiative is almost becoming commonplace. It was less than two weeks ago that Facebook introduced Facebook Deals. Like most of Facebook's announcements, we believe today's announcement is more evolution than revolution. It's another step forward in how we communicate. It's not the deathbed of Gmail or Yahoo Mail as had been broadly written about prior to the announcement.

It's easy to see the benefits to Facebook as members spend ever increasing amounts of time on Facebook.com. This new feature will certainly add to the amount of "social graph" information Facebook has access to. Facebook will now have additional signals telling them who is most important to each individual member, and who is less important in terms of a members social graph connections, and that will be increasingly valuable for advertising purposes, as well as for providing the most facile communications platform.

But we also recognize this is not a zero sum game. By creating this social layer, Facebook is dramatically enhancing the amount of time we'll all spend connected to the web. Odds are, the more time we're connected, the more Google searches we'll all do. The more goods we'll buy from Amazon or eBay. The more articles we'll read on CNN.com.

Facebook eventually wants its members to stop using ten digit numbers or bizarre sequences of characters to connect to each other.Facebook wants us to use our connections and share with them instantly. We may never get there, but undoubtedly, today'sannouncement is a step in that direction.

Kaufman Bros.' Mayuresh Masurekar adds:

So is it an email killer? We do believe this Facebook product launch is incrementallynegative for email providers such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AOL. That said, webelieve the shift from email to Facebook messaging (whether Messages or just statusupdates) has been in progress for years. At 550M global users and 350M users using Facebook messages, Facebook is already almost at par or ahead of other email providerssuch as Hotmail (363M unique monthly users per comScore), Yahoo! Mail (273M) and Gmail(193M). We view email as a web 1.0 version, a digital interpretation of written letters. Webelieve email usage will drop off over time, especially on the consumer side, to be replaced bynewer, better forms of communication.

Comments on Google: We note that: 1) Google had already launched a similar attempt tounify multiple forms of communication in a single product called "Google Wave", which itabandoned after a year's work in Aug-2010 due to lack of user adoption; 2) Google has historically been innovative in the email space with conversation threads, email search ability,priority inbox etc... and we expect it to follow the Facebook announcement with competitiveproduct launches; 3) Having Microsoft's Office Web Apps integrated into Facebook messagesis incrementally negative for Google Apps; and 4) recent news reports highlight the (unofficial) formation of a Microsoft/Yahoo!/Facebook axis to compete against Google.

Deutsche Bank's Alan Hellawell III says:

Facebook's new paradigm for communication.Facebook has unveiled its new messaging service, which will combine traditional email, instant messaging and cellphone text messaging into one system.Messages will be routed to whichever service is deemed best for each user, and an archive of everything will be kept. This will allow Facebook to emulate what Google (GOOG, Buy, USD595.47) has done and moreover successfully use this messaging service to target ads based on what people write and share.

All about capturing users' online activity. Internationally, Microsoft's (MSFT, Buy, USD26.2) Hotmail has 362 mn users,Yahoo (YHOO, Hold, USD16.59) Mail has 273 mn users and Gmail has 193 mn users. With Facebook's roughly 500 mn users, of which 350 mn are currently actively messaging, this new communication service has the potential to elbow its way past Gmail and Yahoo Mail in the fight for a larger share of user activity and data, which in turn is critical to better online ad targeting, already a $26 billion industry in the U.S.

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Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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