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11/12/2010
02:39 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Facebook May Be Preparing 'Gmail Killer'

A press event being held by the company on Monday could mark an escalation of hostilities with Google.

Facebook is preparing to announce a Web-based e-mail client known internally as Project Titan, according to tech news site TechCrunch.

The company is hosting a media event on Monday, in advance of the Web 2.0 Summit next week, where CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to speak. It's expected to reveal details about Project Titan.

Facebook declined to comment. "We don't comment on speculation around future products," a company spokesperson said in an e-mail.

But Gmail would be a logical point of attack.

Gmail is the foundation of Google Buzz, Google's not-so-successful social networking service. Were Facebook able to hinder the growth of Gmail with a competing service, Google's attempts to become more social might be slowed.

Even so, Facebook needs to make its messaging service competitive before it's capable of killing anything. But given that a headline like "Facebook Readying Gmail Approacher" doesn't cry out for further attention, one can see why TechCrunch went with "Gmail Killer."

Facebook certainly has the talent to create a more capable messaging service. Paul Buchheit, the engineer behind Gmail, has been working for Facebook, though he's now leaving to join Y Combinator. And Google has reportedly been forced to offer significant raises to staunch the hemorrhaging of talent to Facebook.

Google recently changed the terms of its Contact API to deny Facebook access in response to Facebook's unwillingness to make social graph contacts accessible via API. While the company characterized the decision as a way to insist on reciprocal data sharing, it may also have reflected awareness of an imminent challenge from Facebook. A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

Facebook's ties with Microsoft may offer some guidance about the nature of Facebook's announcement. Facebook is decidedly a consumer-oriented service, but it could pose problems to not only to Gmail but to Google Apps if it partnered with Microsoft to provide a social layer for Microsoft's cloud productivity services. A deeper partnership with Microsoft would solve a major problem for Facebook: its lack of substantive, business-oriented services.

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