Facebook Messages – will it transform future of email?

15 Nov 2010

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Facebook has unveiled its much anticipated new Messages system – a social inbox which it claims will enable users to better manage conversations – and an @facebook.com email address to every user who wants one.

The new system, known simply as Messages, will enable Facebook users to maintain their online conversations more easily by integrating chat, text and email into one single, continuous thread.

The system is the result of the mysterious Project Titan, which many believe represents an opportunity for Facebook to take on Google’s Gmail and has been dubbed Facebook’s "Gmail killer".

Facebook is launching Messages and email addresses gradually and making them available to every one of its 500 million global users over the next few months. Once users receive an invitation, they will be able to get started and also invite friends to join.

The system also enables messages from friends to be prioritised while everything else goes into a separate "other folder."

Other enhancements to the social inbox include being able to add or remove people from threads, send attachments and forward messages.

“You decide how you want to talk to your friends: via SMS, chat, email or Messages,” explained Facebook engineer Joel Seligstein. “They will receive your message through whatever medium or device is convenient for them, and you can both have a conversation in real time. You shouldn’t have to remember who prefers IM over email or worry about which technology to use. Simply choose their name and type a message.

@facebook.com

“We are also providing an @facebook.com email address to every person on Facebook who wants one. Now people can share with friends over email, whether they’re on Facebook or not.

“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 modelled 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,” he said.

Seligstein said new platforms like Messages paves the way for the future of unified communications, where actual phone numbers will possibly become a thing of the past.

“Relatively soon, we’ll probably all stop using arbitrary 10-digit numbers and bizarre sequences of characters to contact each other. We will just select friends by name and be able to share with them instantly. We aren’t there yet, but the changes today are a small first step."

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com