Facebook unveiled its e-mail strategy today, a revamped Messages service with facebook.com addresses, a conversation history that includes e-mail, social messages and SMS, and a "social inbox" that prioritizes friends and friends of friends to keep spam out of the picture. The service will also be implemented on Facebook's iPhone app.
CEO co-founder Mark Zuckerberg held a private press event in San Francisco in advance of the Web 2.0 Summit in order to reveal the service. "We think we should take features away from messaging. It should be simple," he said.
Although the general Facebook spiel is about how much people share publicly (intentionally or not), this piece is about private communication. There are 350 million Facebook users who actively send messages back and forth, 4 billion every day, says Zuckerberg. Most of these connections are in the form of one-to-one communication.
The product contains three pieces:
Seamless messaging - Instead of dealing with the dilemma of reaching people via e-mail or direct message or SMS, all of these will be combined, so that you'll be able to reach someone the way they prefer to be reached, without you having to think about it. "All you need is a person and a message," said Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering for Facebook.
Conversation history - All communiques between friends will be logged, regardless of their format, so that you can browse all sorts of exchanges between you and your individual peeps.
Social inbox - Since they know your friends, and those friends of friends, Facebook will apply social filters to the e-mail inbox, prioritizing real humans who you like over spambots you'd rather avoid. Even just the stuff you don't care as much about, bank statements, pages you've liked, etc., gets routed to an "Other" folder, which you'd check less often.
You'd even be able to set your controls so that any e-mail not from a friend gets bounced completely.
As for those facebook.com e-mail addresses, if you've already got a Facebook username, that, plus @facebook.com, will be your new e-mail address. However, the whole thing is rolling out slowly, over the course of months, and will start by invite only at first. "Once you receive an invitation," says a Facebook blog posting, "you'll be able to get started and also invite your friends to join you."
(Corporate Facebook e-mail addresses are changing over @fb.com, now that the company has purchased that domain from the American Farm Bureau, which currently occupies fb.org. It's already switched over: Type in "fb.com" and you'll get Facebook's home page.)
Is this a "Gmail killer," as many speculated? During the Q&A period, Zuckerberg specifically said that it wasn't. It seems more like they're adding lanes to a bypass around Gmail that they already built.
Facebook's blog post on the new Messages puts that into context: "Messages is not e-mail. There are no subject lines, no cc, no bcc, and you can send a message by hitting the Enter key." I think that the e-mail addresses are just tools, not an end in themselves.
"Every day, if we do a good job, more people will IM and message," said Zuckerberg, at the event. "Then if we do a good job with that, one day, six months, a year, two years out, people will start to say 'Hey, this is the way the future should work. Maybe e-mail isn't as big a part of it as it was before.'"
That is to say, since Facebook's already handling the private communications of 350 million people, why not give them the option of a traditional @whatever.com e-mail address? It's just icing.
Click for more on this from Facebook's blog.