It’s not email…apparently. It’s Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Messages. Some call it the Gmail Killer, some doubt it’s viability at all and some are just confused by it. So, what is Facebook Messages?
Yesterday, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced details of his one stop shop for all your messaging needs. It combines your email, text messages and chats with a strong focus on the social element of online communication. When you select a contact, you will instantly see your entire conversation history regardless if it was through IM, SMS or email. This adds context to conversations – we don’t just converse with people using one method and now all methods will be integrated. Facebook says, “it’s like having an ongoing record of your friendship”. Aww, how sweet.
So far so good! It sounds like the ideal solution for personal emails. However, Facebook are at pains to say this is not an emailing system. Despite the fact that you will now have access to a @facebook.com email address, the Messages service is designed to act more as a ‘switchboard’ for your communications needs. Zuckerberg stated that Facebook believes modern messaging should be “seamless, informal, immediate, personal, simple and minimal”. “It’s not e-mail,” he said.
Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I happen to be quite fond of email. I like my Gmail account; I like having all of my different email addresses integrated into my Gmail account. I don’t think I’m quite ready to abandon emails just yet.
There is one area I can see Facebook outshining Gmail and that’s in the prioritising of messages. While Gmail has its Priority Inbox (something which is not as intuitive as they seem to believe), Facebook has its Social Inbox. FB knows who your friends are already. It knows who you converse with regularly. Your social inbox will likely only contain messages from people you deem important to you socially. Messages from everyone else will fall into your ‘Other’ folder. In fact, as with FB’s other functions and services, you can restrict who has the ability to message you – i.e. Friends Only, Friends of Friends, Groups, etc.
Why have Facebook launched this service? Well, with over 500 million current Facebook users, there’s definitely a market for the service. The pre-existing Facebook Mail is clunky and unintelligent, so a change was definitely needed. Furthermore, Zuckerberg explained recently that when he asked a group of high school students why they “don’t really use e-mail”, the reply was “it’s too slow”. Text messaging is near instant and Facebook wants its Messages system to reflect this.
Which brings us back again to the abandonment of email – “We don’t think a modern messaging system is going to be e-mail,” Zuckerberg said. For a system that claims not to be email, it looks a lot like email to me…
…except, not as good. Facebook Messages cannot replace email. It’s advantages will be in the instantaneous nature of the service, the swift responses, the quick back-and-forth. However, if you use email for more than short bursts of information (I definitely do), Messages won’t be for you. Granted, Facebook have purposely geared their service this way.
Every email someone sends to firstname.lastname@example.org will go into Facebook Messages as part of a single conversation. If you end up sending me several emails about a variety of topics, I’ll see all of those separate emails as one conversation. FB Messages doesn’t have Subject Lines. Again, I see this as a huge flaw, while Facebook call it a design feature.
I can see plenty of advantages to Messages, particularly for personal communications, and, as an upgrade of their current Facebook Mail service, it is a huge improvement. But will it change how I communicate online? I don’t see it. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong.
Frankly, with so much still wrong with Facebook – the privacy settings, the user interface for Facebook Groups, the lack of message archive accessibility and the fact that there are still no email alerts available to Page Admins, to name a few – I would rather Facebook get their core product right before throwing a new one at us.
If you want to know more about Facebook Messages, go to the Facebook Blog or if you want to request an invitation, you can click here and wait a while. And don’t forget, you can follow the Irish Internet Association’s Facebook Page too.
For the moment, Facebook Messages is invite-only – and each person has a limited number of invitations to share. Are you using it yet? Let us know your thoughts on Messages. Will it work or will it go down in the annals of Internet lore, alongside Google Wave, Bebo and Boo.com?