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By Rich Karpinski

Where do you live online? Chances are, if you think about it, it's not on some Web site (even Facebook or LinkedIn, for social network fans) but your e-mail inbox.

That's why Yahoo, Google and a handful of intriguing startup companies are hoping to use email as the linchpin for building the next generation of social networks.

The New York Times this week gets the latest scoop from Web giants Google and Yahoo:


Web-based e-mail systems already contain much of what Facebook calls the social graph — the connections between people. That’s why the social networks offer to import the e-mail address books of new users to jump-start their list of friends. Yahoo and Google realize that they have this information and can use it to build their own services that connect people to their contacts.


So what does this mean? Brad Garlinghouse, who runs the communication and community products for Yahoo, describes its so-called "Inbox 2.0" plans a bit further:


First, the e-mail service is made more personal because it displays messages more prominently from people who are more important to you. Yahoo is testing a method that can automatically determine the strength of your relationship to someone by how often you exchange e-mail and instant messages with him or her.

“The inbox you have today is based on what people send you, not what you want to see,” Mr. Garlinghouse said. “We can say, here are the messages from the people you care about most.

There will [also] be some sort of profile system attached to Inbox 2.0, he said. For people who use a lot of Yahoo services, this profile could be quite rich even at the beginning, as it can draw on activity on Yahoo Music, Yahoo Shopping and so on.


It's an intriguing premise, but one that requires a couple of significant leaps of logic to make work:

1. The way in which the "social graph" is implemented must make your email inbox more *useful*, not just more complex.

2. Inbox 2.0 must respect that we all use email in a variety of ways -- to talk to friends, share silly stuff AND conduct business. Sharing profiles and online activities must respect these different roles.

*Still* have no idea what Inbox 2.0 might look like? Startup Xobni already delivers many of these concepts in conjunction with your Microsoft Outlook inbox. Check out this video to see how all of this might work:



What do you think? Does this add significant value to your email inbox? We're hoping to try out Xobni or fellow Inbox 2.0 startup Xoopit soon. Check back to see what we find.

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