Only a handful of users have been granted access to Facebook’s new messaging system, but details continue to pile up. Microsoft announced in its blog today that users will be able to send and receive Microsoft Office files – specifically Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This is a fairly crucial tool for the site’s step toward full e-mail services. While maintaining this idea of “modern messaging” and keeping the service focused as a conversation between two people, it’s important Facebook address some of the more professional capabilities of e-mail, and complete access to Office documents helps it retain a more practical function.
“If you have Office installed on your computer, you will be able to download, edit and save attachments to your computer, ” Microsoft claims. And of course, anyone not privileged enough to have the full installed version of Office will be able to utilize its Web Apps for free.
When you receive an attachment, the Facebook message will come complete with simple “View on Office.com” or “Download” icons – similar to how Gmail allows users to access documents.
Microsoft also announced that this tool will be extended to Facebook’s Group application, so users will be able to share Office files with specific, customized groups of their Friends.
Aside from fortifying Facebook’s capabilities, Office integration is also significant because it may signal that Facebook and Microsoft are teaming up to edge Gmail out. It’s unlikely Microsoft sees Facebook’s messaging system as a strong competitor to Outlook. Outlook has a clearly carved niche with the corporate and institutional world, and it’s doubtful Facebook’s emotionally-charged campaign for its e-mail provider could put a dent in it. The social networking site is competing for Web-based e-mail consumers, and is no threat to Microsoft (seeing as Hotmail accounts for a small margin of its profits).
So once again, it looks like the pressure is on Google. And with Microsoft Web Apps as an answer to Gmail’s Google Apps, Facebook is looking more and more like a product that could give Gmail a run for its money. Mark Zuckerberg can say all he wants that this “is not e-mail” and that it won’t rival Gmail. As he said yesterday, Facebook’s messaging system is the introduction to a new way of thinking about e-mail, more or less implying it’s a game changer. If Facebook is successful and, as Zuckerberg claimed, users like what the site’s messaging function is doing, they’ll start preferring this type of conversational Internet communication. And if they do, Gmail is going to find itself either clinging to traditionalist users or jumping on Facebook’s bandwagon to mimic its system.
Then again, maybe Google has this all under control with its long-rumored social networking endeavor.