In an unsurprising turn of events, Facebook unveiled its “modern messaging system” this morning. As expected, Project Titan will indeed compete with Gmail and other e-mail providers with the option of an @facebook.com domain, but Facebook hopes it will eventually revolutionize the way people use the Internet to communicate – emphasis on eventually.
In the lengthy announcement, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and director of engineering Andrew Bosworth discussed the details of Project Titan while primarily focusing on the belief that it is the future of communication. What Zuckerberg also reiterated was that “this is not an e-mail killer.” When pressed specifically about the relationship between Facebook and Google, Zuckerberg mentioned some mild irritation with the media’s coverage of the companies’ public spat, and simply said, “I think Gmail’s a really good product…we just think that this simpler kind of message is how people will shift their communication.” In short, Facebook has no plans to beat Gmail (or Yahoo, Aol, or Hotmail) at its own game…yet. It’s the long run effect the company is looking at.
But aside to any dramatics of the day, Facebook gave an overall look at what users can expect from its new messaging system:
Seamless Messaging, Conversation History, and Social Inbox
These are the three principles the message system is built around. Seamless messaging will combine all the various ways you communicate into one place – SMS, chat, e-mail, Facebook IM, etc. You can archive or completely delete these threads at any time. Conversation History will now be one thread – no multiple threads over different applications. This works to show you your conversation with each individual person over time. The Social Inbox works as a spam filter. It’s a tiered system, ranking message importance by the amount you interact with another Facebook user. Your list of priority contacts are automatically created.
How it works
So how will Facebook decide what type of message to send to a person? While it was difficult to get a concrete answer (other than that this is what it will test on its first users in the months to come), it seems like it will use whatever is quickest. For instance, if a user sends an e-mail to another, who happens to be on Facebook, he’ll receive a Facebook IM. Still, the service will recognize users’ messaging preferences and defer to those. This system is called the Policy Engine, and aims to “try and make it so people don’t have to think about this stuff,” so that all you need is a “message and a person.”
Yes, users will now have the option of a Facebook e-mail address. The interface is similar to many e-mail services, allowing attachments and displaying simple icons. What differs is the purposeful lack of a subject line and hitting “enter” will send your message.
Will this affect advertising?
Zuckerberg claimed that advertising would remain the same as it is now – a bar on the right hand side of the screen. It will still be based around what you provide in your profile, but the content of your messages will not be used for marketing purposes.
The Future of Messaging
Again and again, both Zuckerberg and Bosworth reminded us that this isn’t making e-mail obsolete. “We don’t expect anyone to shut down their Yahoo account and switch to Facebook tomorrow,” Zuckerberg said. At the same time, he stressed that this is a long-term project, because he believes this is eventually the way people will use online communication. “This is the way that the future should work…maybe [in the future] e-mail isn’t as important a part as it was before.”
Don’t expect to see any changes tomorrow. Facebook will slowly roll out its new messaging system, starting out as invite only and using feedback to finalize the project over the coming months.
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