Who needs another email address? Facebook thinks… We do. Facebook ‘Messages’ is a service the company is rolling out, in which users can opt-in and receive their very own “@facebook.com” email address that matches their public username.
What they’re offering is not really email nor is it as sophisticated or business-oriented as SharePoint hosting. However, here you can chat, text message, IM or email. Facebook calls it the “next evolution of messaging”. Rather than having intermittent exchanges of content, as is the case with traditional email, this new messaging medium will support “ongoing conversations”. Entire conversation histories going back years will be saved into users’ accounts. No subject lines, no cc, no bcc, just long threads of individual conversations.
The three features that define Facebook’s new offering include:
• Seamless messaging: users can chat with people through whatever medium they choose, be it SMS, email, or IM
• Conversation history: see everything you’ve discussed with each friend as a single conversation
• Social inbox: for filtering exactly the messages you want to see and having a spam-free inbox (theoretically)
Hasta La Vista, Email?
Zuckerberg says “This is not an email killer. This is a messaging system that includes email as one part of it.”
While Facebook may not be driving the knife into email, it is swinging its sharp edge at email service providers, particularly Google’s Gmail service. There’s a long standing issue with Facebook not letting people import their contacts into their Gmail account, even though Gmail lets Facebook do it.
Facebook’s system doesn’t play well with others, and a recent Gizmodo post went as far as to say that “[Facebook] wants to be Netflix, it wants to be your Xbox, it wants to be Foursquare, it wants to be Gmail—Facebook wants to be the internet.”
And yes, it certainly does impose its own proprietary system in favour of systems that work well and are widely-used.
But as much as I love a good conspiracy theory, (and I do believe that Facebook is trying hoard the web’s social space) email won’t die. Not at the hands of Facebook. After all, Facebook is a social utility and though email is a way of connecting with people, Facebook Messages is optimized for socializing and strips down many of the important functions that email offers. Functions which are indispensable in a business setting.
The CEO of a huge financial firm isn’t going to scroll through an entire conversation history to find a document that was sent 2 weeks ago. Being able to separate topics is a fundamental aspect of email. Plus, the Facebook Messages method of prioritizing messages is only useful in a social context.
Can We Trust Facebook With Our Email?
Naturally, because the company has taken the do-and-get-forgiven-later approach with its users, and has been flawed with privacy so often, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has promised that users’ chat content will not be used for advertisement positioning analytics.
However, Facebook will analyze who you send messages to most. As part of Facebook’s ‘smart filtering system’, it will automatically prioritize the messages sent from people who you’re already Facebook friends with. Emails from friends and friends of friends will go directly to your main messages folder- everything else to your “Other” folder. Basically, if you’re not Facebook friends with someone who sends you a message, it’s going to get a lower priority.
Facebook says that spam and bulk email will automatically go to the “Other” folder. How effective that will be, remains to be seen…
In the last year, Facebook has encountered major spam and malware problems.
Last summer, users were receiving messages from friends on their walls and in their inboxes saying “LOL is this you?” with a malicious link. Spammers have also infiltrated the Chat system posing as a friend wanting you to “Try this game”- even referencing a mutual friend of yours who beat them.
Sophos, a security software and hardware company, produced a FAQ guide to help users understand the security implications of having a Facebook email address before they sign up.
They say spammers will have more of an incentive to hack into Facebook accounts using phishing attacks and exploiting weak passwords.
Before signing up, users need to realize that these new features increase the attack surface on the Facebook platform. Cybercriminals are already compromising and using their accounts to spread spam messages. Spam sent via social networks can be more effective than traditional email spam, as users are more likely to open and trust a message which appears to have been sent by someone they know – one of their Facebook friends.
If your username is public, than anyone can find out your Facebook email address and send you a message. Allowing “Friends Only” to message you and choosing unique, hard-to-crack passwords will be essential.
All in all, I do think Facebook is offering its users a cool service and in many ways it will force other email providers to innovate. But I do have to agree with Jason Falls at social media explorer who sees this move by Facebook as yet another way to make Facebook a necessity for people.
Zuckerburg has always billed Facebook as a social utility. It now becomes much more of one as people will begin to rely on the network for unified communication. Facebook smart phone apps will become the mobile destination of choice (if they aren’t already) for many people, and not just young people. Like it or not, this will drive even more users and more interaction on the site and make Facebook more of a necessity for people, rather than an entertainment option.
For those interested, here is a video of Mark Zuckerberg at the Web 2.0 Summit discussing Facebook Messages (while being interrogated by Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle) as well as other aspects of the company and its future: