Facebook is set to announce this morning what many people believe is an email system that might go up against Gmail and other Web mail services. Other folks are not so sure a head-on assault on standard Web mail is a great idea, or even a likely one. In fact, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Robert Scoble that it’s not really email as we think of it, which isn’t surprising. Facebook clearly has the social DNA and the technical chops to add its own wrinkles. Not least, it certainy has the financial resources to do almost whatever it wants–or, perhaps, the financial imperative to fulfill the almost ridiculous expectations by shareholders, even if they are technically private. But we’ll find out shortly.
UPDATE: This is not a new email system per se, though clearly Facebook would like to see it subsume email in coming years–and for that matter, subsume pretty much all your communications (which worries some people). Instead, it’s Facebook’s attempt to 1) help people organize their conversations among various communications systems–email, Facebook messaging, SMS and chat–into single threads; and 2) help people view only messages from close contacts by default, although there will be separate folders for messages from other contacts and for apparent spam. The new messaging system will be by invite-only at first but roll out widely over the next few months.
My quick take before getting a chance to try it out (which I will shortly, thanks to a fast invite from Facebook): This is not a revolutionary product out the gate, and you won’t want to dump your email accounts yet, if ever. Many details remain to be worked out, from how it will work with non-Facebook members to how well it sorts messages in the various ways promised–which is why it’s not rolling out to every Facebook member yet. And like any product offered up by a Web powerhouse, whether it be Facebook or Google, we’ll have to see whether the data and potentially privacy we give up is worth the value. But offering a way to bring together various communications methods in one place–and organize them automatically by conversation thread, as well as by which are likely to be most important to you–seems like a smart move if Facebook can pull it off in a smooth way. That will be the trick.
And we’re underway. (more…)