If you were anxious that Facebook would launch some kind of Gmail-killing e-mail product at today’s live event, put those fears aside and replace them with new, more perplexing concerns about how Facebook would like to be in charge of your e-mails, text messages, and IMs. If you write it, Mark Zuckerberg would like to store and send it. If you birthed it, well, Facebook hasn’t found a way to digitize your firstborn just yet, but stay tuned. The new platform, called Messages, tries to dispense with the “cognitive load” of writing subject lines or figuring out whether to contact your friends by e-mail, IM, or text. Instead, the service will determine which mode of text communication (e-mail, IM, or text) the recipient is most likely to respond to and send it that way. Then, it stores all your communication with one person in one subjectless thread forever and ever, or at least until it joins Friendster in social-network heaven. Zuckerberg explained that the new system is modeled more on the immediacy and simplicity of chat, with the idea that teenagers don’t use e-mail anymore, adding, “We don’t think modern messaging is going to be e-mail.”
Obviously, as we suspected, this isn’t going to replace your work account or any communication channels you use for the express purpose of being productive.
Some aspects of the social platform, which is still by invite only, sound appealing. It is inconvenient to switch from IM to e-mail based on which form you think will get you the fastest response. Making plans when you’re not sure if someone’s out to lunch or logged off for the day makes the text option sound potentially useful. Other aspects, like ceding control of even more personal information to a company that has struggled with privacy concerns, will meet much more resistance. Facebook’s director of engineering compared the communication history to his grandmother’s box of love letters. That sounds sweet, just maybe not on a server run by the dude who has yet to live down his “I’m CEO, bitch” business card.
Another selling point, which sounds more like a drawback to us, is Message’s ability to filter out e-mails from friends whose messages you actually want to read, storing the more utilitarian (non-spam, but uninteresting) messages in a second in-box they imagine you’ll check once a day. Great, another in-box! We were wondering what to do with those extra hours in our day. The other problem, of course, is that clicking “accept friend request” is very different from indicating you’d like to see someone’s name in your in-box. In some ways, however, it might actually be less invasive than Gmail, since Google mines the content of your e-mails in order to serve ads.
Messages could be one of those things, like Facebook itself, that sounds like a headache at first, but then becomes less and less avoidable as everyone else adopts it. We hope other e-mail providers try to incorporate some of the same functionality. Because we’d like to try those features, just not necessarily on Facebook.
The Underlying Technology of Messages [Facebook]