This morning, Facebook announced its new messaging system. CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that the system was “not email” and not intended as the media-hyped “Gmail killer“. Zuckerberg did say, however, that “this simpler type of messaging is going to be how people shift their communication.”
We got in touch with two people that deal with email far more than we ever care to to get their insight on what these changes mean for the future of communication and email as a whole.
If Not Email, What IS Facebook Offering?
First a quick look at the product Facebook just unveiled. It’s a revamped messaging system that involves three key points: seamless messaging, conversation history and a “social inbox.” Every Facebook user will receive an @facebook.com email address according to their user name (which is also their Facebook URL). Users will be able to email off-site, receive emails from other systems, interact on-the-go with SMS and mobile Web apps, and all of this will take place in Facebook messages. From the Facebook blog post:
To be clear, Messages is not email. There are no subject lines, no cc, no bcc, and you can send a message by hitting the Enter key. We modeled it more closely to chat and reduced the number of things you need to do to send a message. We wanted to make this more like a conversation.
What Does It All Mean?
To get a little insight on Facebook’s announcement, we got in touch with Jared Goralnick, founder of AwayFind, and Joshua Baer, founder and CEO of OtherInbox, and asked them what they thought the big takeaways from today were. What we have, they seemed to independently agree, is a feature that will be sticky among the younger, Facebook generation and will decidedly change the way we communicate.
Blurring the Lines: Integration
“This will blur the lines between email and SMS and chat,” said Baer. “It’s a much bigger step than when Gmail introduced chat history but still aligned with the same concept.”
According to Goralnick, the social inbox just “isn’t that exciting”, but conversation history and seamless integration will be big.
“For people that spend much of their day on Facebook, the unification of the messaging will be a huge benefit,” said Goralnick. “Right now, many people stick to email because of its archiving and search capabilities, but if Facebook can offer a better user experience for retrieving and finding meaning in our communications history (and add in SMS and chat) then that will encourage people to switch to communicating more with Facebook.”
While Facebook has been getting a bit sentimental, as of late, with its feature additions (“Friendship pages“, anyone?) the ease of moving between one system, one device, and another may prove to be the ultimate advantage when dealing with Facebook’s new system. As your situation changes and you move from computer to mobile Web, from mobile Web to SMS only, your Facebook conversation can follow you. When you finally make it back to your home computer, you can see it all in one place – this is the big takeaway.
“Facebook, Twitter DM, LinkedIn, etc. are like the Aol, Prodigy, Compuserve of the early 90’s that couldn’t email each other,” said Baer.
Perhaps this revamped system will help to pull Facebook out of the 1990s and into a future where users on any one platform can email users on any other platform.
Simpler is Better
Baer pointed to simplicity as another important aspect of Facebook’s announcement.
“Simpler seems to be a new trend,” he said, pointing to iOS versus MacOS, chat versus email.
“We think that we should take features away from messaging,” said Zuckerberg during the event. “It should be minimal”
Goralnick said that it might be the system’s simplicity that really helps it take off and make Facebook’s messaging product “significantly stickier”.
“I believe there’s a generation of people,” said Goralnick,” who will use this in place of Gmail or Yahoo, for simplicity sake.”
It All Comes Down to Trust
As with most discussions of Facebook these days, it all returns to privacy concerns and whether or not we trust the site with more and more of our information. During the announcement, alarm bells went off when one member of the audience asked if Facebook would be capturing information about non-Facebook users. “Yes,” answered Zuckerberg, “in some way we do that.”
While Goralnick feels that Facebook can attract a lot of activity if properly designed, he says the privacy could be a sticking point… and then again it might not.
“We will need to be confident that FB has our best interests in mind, and that’s where the whole privacy discussion enters. Do I want to have my most personal communications through Facebook?” he asked. “But the next generation has already made clear that they do use Facebook for nearly everything.”
It’s Up to the Users
On that point, we’ll have to see what happens next. Unlike other recent social media failures, this is an integral part of Facebook’s system, so it won’t be whether or not Facebook users use the system, but how they use it.
“We’ve had so many flame-outs recently from Google (Buzz, Wave) that its hard not to be skeptical,” said Baer, “but I’m bought into the vision.”
Goralnick sees this as becoming popular, especially among the under-25 generation, with additional benefits later on down the road luring in the older, professional crowd.
If you’re interested in hearing more from Baer and Goralnick on the state of email, make sure to check out InboxLove, an email-centric conference co-hosted by Baer, Goralnick and 500 Startups in early 2011.
As for Facebook’s new messaging system, Zuckerberg said it would be rolled out slowly, but you can check the status and request an invite here.