You've Got Messages, Says Facebook

BlogHer Original Post

On Monday Facebook announced a new system of messaging that will be integrated within Facebook. Facebook calls it seamless messaging because it will dump your email, IMs, text messages, and Facebook messages into one Message inbox. The new Messages folder will be organized by Friends.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens to a question from the audience after unveiling a new messaging system during a news conference in San Francisco, California November 15, 2010. Facebook trotted out a new messaging tool on Monday that aims to handle users' email and other communications across different services, taking on Google Inc's and Yahoo Inc's popular email platforms.  REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCI TECH BUSINESS)

One more Facebook intrusion into online life raises some privacy concerns. Facebook gets greedy with own e-mail: The "Gmail killer" could snuff out privacy instead puts it this way:

As if you craved yet another reason to fear for the security of your information, now The Kingdom That Is Facebook wants access to your most personal communication, too.
. . .
But we don't mind being schooled when we're wrong. We get that all your friends are, like, right there on Facebook. But is that all you need? Does Facebook get a blank check when it comes to handling your electronic lifeblood?

At ZDnet, they ask Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

But as more people will be tempted by the new inbox feature that has just been announced, the more data Facebook has of you where otherwise they might not have. And with this comes even higher risk that your consolidated social lives are at further risk from the counter-privacy brigade.

In The Guardian they reported on the announcement and then looked at what could be good or bad about the new system.

OK, so thinking of all the things that can go horrendously wrong with this, what do we think?

If a spam link gets through your email and you click on it and it sends itself to your friends while infecting your machine (something that happens pretty often) then it is going to have the chance to get everywhere – not just onto computers where you view a status update, but on PCs and phones. Even a hundred million phones might begin to look like an attractive target for malware authors, especially as they could target one browser (those running WebKit) and aim malware at that.

Privacy concerns are always an issue with Facebook. They don't have a great record in that area. The solution with the new service is the same as with other privacy options on Facebook: it's up to you. You determine what parts of it you want to use (if any), you set up whether just friends or also friends of friends can message you.

When it pops up in your Facebook account, spend some time going through all the settings for your account to make sure you have the privacy level you want.

How it Works

When you're on Facebook with your Messages open on the page, you see something that looks familiar with friend icons stretching down the page. Each friend represents a conversation. An ongoing conversation that may stretch back months or years. No subject lines, no threads by topic. Just conversational history with friends.

That conversation might be email, it might be Facebook messages, it might be chat, it might be text messages. It's all there as a personal history of communication with one person.

Things pop into your Messages box in real time, so Facebook messaging is more informal and immediate than was previously possible with email, IM, text or Facebook used on its own.

Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg said he got this idea from talking to high school kids about what they use social media and how they stay in touch with friends. Over 4 billion messages get sent per day through Facebook. Often these are one to one messages between people. The number of messages is growing faster than the rest of Facebook. To deal with that, Facebook came up with an idea of what the next generation of messaging should be. Here's what they were aiming for:

  • seamless
  • informal
  • immediate and realtime like IM or SMS
  • personal
  • simple
  • minimal with few features
  • short

Facebook rebuilt the infrastructure to Facebook for the conversation history aspect to work with all the systems that are coming in. They used an open source tool to create the system that handles all the routing from all the information streams. Facebook engineers have been working on this for over a year.

There are three main aspects to Facebook messaging.

  • Seamless Messaging - handles email and IM and SMS and Facebook messages and integrates different products easily. Communication is currently fragmented with some people using email, some using text messages, etc. This will throw it all into one conversation that will work together in real time. If something comes in as a text, the response can be a text, or an email, or anything else the user chooses.
  • Conversation History - messages are a conversation stream for each friend rather than threaded by subject. There's a history for each conversation with each friend. It gives people a record of their entire conversation history like a box full of letters in the closet. It saves emails, text messages, IMs in one history. Users can delete any messages from the conversation they don't want.
  • Social Inbox - Filtering is done by friends lists or friends of friends. The hallmark of the new system is the Facebook friend setup. Your friends and the friends of your friends go into your Messages folder. Anything that isn't personal goes to another inbox called Other. By default you will only see messages from your friends in the Messages folder, but you can move other people from the Other folder to the Messages folder. Or, you can move friends you are less interested in real time conversation with into the Other folder.

There will be a facebook.com email address: yourusername@facebook.com. With a facebook.com email address you have more control over who can send you messages. The controls use the same sort of interface you now use to set up Privacy controls and determine who can see what in your account.

The new system works with all sorts of existing technology. There's also an iPhone application that will push messages out. It will work with Jabber. IMAP is coming later, which means you can't yet bring all your email into Facebook automatically. Messages can come with attachments and be forwarded, just like with other email services.

Is it a Gmail killer?

In my opinion, no. It's so closely tied in with the Facebook friends model, that a lot of what happens in email will still continue to happen in Gmail or Yahoo! mail just as it does now. People who organize their lives around Facebook friends may migrate away from separate email apps over time. And younger users who already don't use email will find this is all they need. Using the facebook.com email address is optional, which means you can maintain separate email accounts at Gmail or wherever that don't integrate with Facebook's messaging system. Everything is optional, actually. For example, if you don't include your phone number to receive text messages through the new Facebook system, you won't get them that way.

A slow rollout is planned with an invite system so it will scale up slowly and respond to feedback from users as it rolls out.

Virginia DeBolt
Web Teacher | First 50 Words

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