Facebook announced their “modern messaging system,” at a press event this evening in San Francisco.
The social network giant was expected to announce a brand new email service today that would rival Google’s Gmail, Microsoft’s Hotmail and Yahoo’s own mail service. However, Zuckerberg and the Facebook team were determined to clarify at the announcement that the new messaging service is not email. Zuckerberg stated “this is not an email killer it is a messaging system that has email as one part of it.”
Rather, the new social messaging service is aimed at simplifying our communication channels across platforms.
Zuckerberg began the press event by saying that more than four billion one-to-one messages are currently sent through Facebook each day. He also stated that Facebook believes messaging has moved on from email and now needs to be seamless, informal, immediate, personal, simple and minimal.
As expected Facebook will be handing out facebook.com e-mail addresses to all users, however, if you chose not to opt in, you will still be able to take full advantage of the new messaging functionality. Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering at Facebook, said that the system “is really modeled after chat” and that “People should share however they want to share.”
The three main aspects of the new service are: Seamless messaging, cross-platform Conversation History, and the Social Inbox.
The messaging system is also designed to be platform-agnostic, so users can have a seamless messaging experience, sending and receiving messages via mobile, IM, Facebook or email. This will make it simpler for users to communicate in real-time with their real friends, regardless of where they are.
The conversation history will store your conversations in lists by friend rather than in threads. This means you will be able to look back over a single conversation history with one person, from the very first message sent to the present. As Bosworth, points out this could be quite romantic, and in many ways can become the modern day equivalent of the shoe box full of love letters. However, I imagine this could also create huge problems if anyone ever snooped through your inbox. They have built in off the record functionalities though, so that you can chose to erase certain messages.
The Social inbox is divided into 3 categories – main folder, other folder (less prominent), and junk and will essentially white list your messages, filtering the messages from people in your social graph to your primary inbox. In other words it’s designed to highlight conversations with your real friends.
When asked about how this will compete with gmail, Zuckerberg stated that he thinks “Gmail is a really good product and email is still really important to a lot of people…. this product works fine with gmail. We just want people to connect however they want to connect.”
Zuckerberg also commented extensively on how young people are actually using messaging services today, and how this has inspired the new messaging service. He stated that after a conversation with a group of high schoolers he realized that email is too formal and “adds a cognitive load” meaning less is shared. Because of this they have stripped out subject lines and there are no longer cc and bcc options.
Although we understand this desire for more immediate casual conversation, we can’t help but wonder how this will impact the art of the written word, let alone the ability to carry out meaningful conversation if everything becomes reduced to short SMS style bursts.
The service will begin rolling out over the next few months, initially through invite only.