Facebook Aims to Change the Email Game


To begin with, what Facebook announced yesterday is not email. The new offering has three main features: 1) Seamless Messaging, 2) Conversation History, and 3) Social Inbox. Zuckerberg at 10:07 PST, “It is not email.”

And it’s not a Gmail Killer. Zuckerberg at 10:33, “Gmail is a great product [and] email is still really important to a lot of people.”

So what is it?

Called Messages, it’s email and more. Messages brings together a single, unified, social inbox that “combines chat, SMS, email, and Messages into a real-time conversation.” Facebook’s core competency is personal communications and it’s leveraging that competency — with its more than 500 million active users — in a powerful way.

Email’s got problems. Used for everything it’s good for nothing. Even InBox Zero guru Merlin Mann has essentially given up and moved on to meetings. Mann says email is like petty crime. We don’t like it but we accept it. We don’t try to solve our email problems the way we did five years ago.

Don’t tell that to Mark Zuckerberg. At yesterday’s event the Facebook CEO told the tale of talking to high-school students who don’t use email because it’s too slow:

“I said ‘what do you mean, it’s instantaneous!’ Zuckerberg recalled. “I was kind of boggled by this.” But the Facebook founder said that he realized for many users, particularly younger users, email as it exists now is “too formal” and adds a lot of weight and social friction because “you have to think of the email address, think of a subject line, write ‘love Mark at the end’” and so on. The high-school students he spoke to preferred chat because it was easier and faster, he said — in other words, it had less “cognitive load.”

His solution — seamless messaging and interoperability:

The big news on the surface is that people will have an email address, [email protected] based on their registered Facebook username. In addition, users will finally be able to send emails to people outside of Facebook as messages will be fully interoperable with any email system. …

Just as important is what Facebook Messages does not do. It won’t be a replacement for regular email because many typical features – like cc’ing and bcc’ing – are missing. That’s because friend communications don’t typically require that. Attachments are taken care of in the form of links, photos, video attachments. Again, Facebook simplified the communications platform, including the fewest number of features needed to stay in touch with friends.

It’s basically chat with email interoperability added in.

But the biggest feature for me will be the early integration of chat, text, and email messages from anyone into one place. I can already use Facebook Chat with people outside of Facebook as it’s interoperable with major platforms like Jabber and AIM. But now if a friend sends me a message and I’m signed into Facebook, the system will deliver it as a chat as it recognizes we can talk in real time. Ditto with text messages from friends – by linking my Facebook account to my mobile number I already get messages from Facebook friends.

Messages from my friends will thus begin to be centralized into one place, no matter where they originate.

Among those features we love to hate about email: search and archiving. It’s all there. All we have to do is find it. GMail’s strength? Search. Facebook’s strength? Friends. Facebook changes the paradigm with a new way to search our archive (now with chat & SMS)….

Let friends define priority:

What Facebook realized was that the world didn’t need another email platform but a better, more simple way to stay connected with the people who count the most in our lives – our friends. So Facebook boils messages down to just two things: friends and their messages. …

Facebook believes that messages from your friends should get priority treatment – and not appear between Amazon order confirmations and Groupon offers. In the new Facebook Inbox, there will be two folders – conversations with Friends and Other for everything else. The Other folder contains all bulk emails from companies, fan pages, notifications, etc. Gmail’s Priority Inbox has a similar approach, but it uses complex algorithms to figure what’s priority.

Rollout will be gradual and is by invitation only. You can follow the rollout and request an invite here.

A thoughtful contrarian take from Dan Gilmore, “I believe people should be wary about using the Facebook Messages platform. I don’t believe Facebook should dominate people’s online experiences, and the idea of the company becoming the de facto online identity holder is downright scary.”

And Mashable looks at the security implications of Facebook Messaging.

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