What's next from Facebook? Speculation about what the company plans to unveil Monday has ramped up considerably.
Initial reports were that Facebook plans to introduce an email service for Facebook users that TechCrunch claims is informally referred to inside Facebook as a "Gmail Killer." The invitation to Monday's event features a graphic of two chat boxes indicating some sort of communications announcement is likely.
An additional new wrinkle is a report by ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley that Facebook will also announce integration with the Web version of Microsoft's Office applications.
Foley, who said her information comes from "a source close to Microsoft," said she thinks Facebook is likely to offer users access to Office documents via Office Web Apps integration even if they don't have Office installed on their local device or PC. Microsoft already offers Hotmail users similar capabilities.
Analyst Ben Bajarin says a new Facebook email service and the integration with Microsoft are logical next steps for the social networking giant that now boasts over 500 million members worldwide.
"Facebook knows how many people use its inbox messaging to communicate with other Facebook users and it's a behavioral shift to switch out to Gmail, Hotmail or some other email service," Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, told InterentNews.com. "If Facebook can control the email experience, that's more time users spend on the site and that's the key to their success, getting people to spend more time on Facebook, which leads to more opportunities for advertisers."
As for the integration with Office apps, Bajarin notes it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for Facebook to cut a deal with Microsoft, a longtime investor in the company and advertising partner.
"Just enabling a social connection has been great for Facebook, but they want people to spend more time at the site and adding productivity apps lines up nicely with that goal," he said. "With so many businesses using Facebook you can see where that would be a very interesting development for the platform."
Ironically, the news comes after months of speculation and reports that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is planning a social media service to compete with Facebook. But Bajarin said he wouldn't be surprised if Facebook's challenge to Google, at least in terms of email, comes first.
"There are a lot of non-techie consumers who don't use email but are on Facebook all the time. So if Facebook can wrap in an email service and get those people going, that's a big deal," said Bajarin.
He added that Facebook might also announce a deeper level of integration of its chat function and extended features for mobile users.
InternetNews.com will have a full report on Facebook's announcement on Monday. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is also slated to speak late Tuesday at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.