This week in Social Media: Facebook does email; the Path way to smaller social circles; and Apple’s Ping gets set to Tweet

This week has proven itself a decidedly big one in the social sphere, as major shake-ups in the industry look poised for long-reaching and long-standing implications. As with all things social, Facebook seems to have grabbed the limelight for the time being, as it has announced an integrated webmail client to its ever-expanding portfolio of applications.

Rumoured as a ‘Gmail killer’ for quite a while now, Facebook revealed its ultra-secretive ‘Project Titan’ as an alternative to traditional emailing methods – the new service does away with subject lines, CCs and BCCs. Not a service intended to threaten any one particular webmail provider, but intended, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg put it, to render email old hat.

“We don’t think that a modern messaging system is going to be email,” Zuckerberg said at the product’s release event in San Francisco. That’s why, he said, Facebook poured resources and an estimated 15 months into developing the new system, which integrates its existing messaging services – chat and user messages – with a facebook.com address.

“It’s not e-mail. It handles e-mail in addition to Facebook messages, and Facebook IM, and other IM and SMS and all the other different ways that you want to communicate,” Zuckerberg said. One of the ways people can choose to communicate with the service will be with Microsoft Office documents, as the new service reportedly supports sending Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents for viewing on Office.com.

The rumours surrounding the release were kick-started last week with the revelation that Palo Alto bought the domain fb.com, which it plans to use for corporate email addresses, though it could just as easily be set up for a URL shortening service.

Path offers a purposefully limited social networking alternative

Perhaps in response to Palo Alto’s increasing dominance over the web sphere, ex-developer Dave Morin jettisoned the company only to release a similar service – only with a diametrically opposite ethos. In the world of Path, the point isn’t so much as to add hundreds of friends as allow you to cultivate relationships with your nearest and dearest only.

Though restricted to mobile at the moment, Path presents what social networking perhaps represents to some users signing up for the services: a chance to stay in contact with those whom you know. Rather than expand from there, Path – which combines mobile photo sharing technologies and group messaging in one killer app – limits users to a 50-user maximum. After that, users would have to pick and choose.

“If you look at how these networks are grown, they start out really high-quality,” Morin told the New York Times. “And as more and more people join, it becomes hard to find people you care about. With Path, you have to be friends with them in the real world in order for them to pop up on your screen.”

Another co-creator of the network is Napster CEO Shawn Fanning, though he keeps a relatively low profile, and Morin himself designed the over-arching Facebook Developers Platform, which allowed the social giant to broaden its reach over the internet. However, with Path, the developers haven’t given much thought to branching out too far, with Morin telling CNet news: “if users want to share their photos with other networks, if they want to put them on Tumblr or Twitter, they’re perfectly welcome to and we’ll likely build those interfaces. They’re not in version one, but we’ll likely build them in.”

Twitter and Apple get friendly

One link-up between tech giants also in the social sphere came from the teaming of Apple’s Ping social network and Twitter. While tied to Facebook up until its September release as part of an iTunes update package, Ping has been criticised for its lack of interoperability with other social platforms, so the Twitter partnership could offer a boon for site user numbers for Cupertino’s service.

Links between the two services will allow users on either network to find those same individuals on the other, and activity by users on Ping can automatically be set to tweet to someone’s Twitter feed.

Twitter users also benefit from the ability to post music media to the social site. “Once you’ve linked the accounts, whenever you Post, Like, Review, or tell your friends why you purchased a song or album on Ping, this activity will also be tweeted to your Twitter followers complete with playable song previews and links to purchase and download music from iTunes,” an official blog post for the company said.

The Register, however, noted that the number of users this will affect cannot be currently ascertained, as Apple has kept a tight lid on how many iTunes users have subscribed to the Ping network, though media outlets have dubbed it a ‘moderate success’ since its inception.

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