Posted by Renee Schmidt

Tech pundits proclaim the ‘death of email’ as email usage continues to decline. Facebook changes email on timelines. Does it want to be your email provider too?

It appears the world’s largest social network wants to be your email provider too. Last week email addresses on user timelines were changed to a default address. The change affected the site’s hundreds of millions of users. Worldwide, users complained about the abrupt switch, especially tech bloggers who were rightfully angered. Personally, I often use Facebook to locate someone’s email address on the fly, as I am sure most people do –so it’s no surprise the change was unwelcomed.

Facebook has an audience of over 900 million users; I think Facebook was banking on many users not bothering to reverse the change (or not noticing it), thereby leaving a Facebook address in place.

So why did the social network see the need to do this? Facebook is always looking to increase the amount of time users stay on the network – email is one piece they’ve never really capitalized on. Perhaps it’s a competitive effort against Google? Although Gmail has fewer users than both Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail. Another interesting point is that by the end of last year, many tech pundits were proclaiming the ‘death of email’ as email usage fell to 31 percent among 12-17 year olds and dropped 21 percent among the 18-24 crowd; replaced by instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter.

Could the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Facebook’s email conundrum be a sign of growing apathy toward Facebook as the central social platform? Or is it that users have an increasing desire to maintain a separate identity apart from Facebook?

A Facebook spokesperson stated “In addition to everyone receiving an address, we’re also rolling out a new setting that gives people the choice to decide which addresses they want to show on their timelines.” The argument goes, by offering everyone the same generic @facebook addresses, the company might be able to protect your preferred email and limit its visibility. But their statement confuses me, since you can simply login and reverse the change, or just hide your email if you want to keep it private.

Facebook doesn’t seem to learn from its past mistakes, rolling out products that seem to usurp user rights or privacy. Had the company done a better job of forewarning users and marketed the change, I think it might have been better received.

So, is Facebook’s email platform the death of email? You weigh in and let me know!