The social networking site Facebook is going to integrate a new mail system in their service. After a period with lot of speculation, the rumours were confirmed yesterday at a press conference and on the Facebook blog. The latter also publishing a video of some of the main features of this new mail system, and different ways in which these can be used. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was expressing that the new service is not going to be an email service, but a whole new way of communicate. The main feature is that communication should not be dependent on technology; instead the system will handle the sending of the messages in the most efficient way. This means that messages sent with email, SMS, Facebook messages or its instant messaging system are going to be handled in the same inbox, and that users can communicate from this inbox and Facebook will choose the method in which this is done. For example, if a user is online, the message will be distributed to them instantly using the IM function, if they are out fishing it will be distributed to them via the new iPod application or SMS. The new inbox will be threaded, and organized according to person and not to subject. Zuckerberg said that he thought this is the future of communication. Here are some of my ideas of the new Facebook messaging system, in its development phase named Project Titan.
The system is based upon the simple idea of abstraction, hence the users are no longer going to be dependent on different channels of communication, and the message will be in the centre, not the technology. This is an old principle and in many ways it fosters good things: The graphical interface of communication with the computer instead of a shell. The shell instead of physical switches, and physical switches instead of cogwheels, slaves and abacuses. Abstraction makes it possible to focus on the important or central part of the task and leaving the more basic processes to underlying layers. In the case of the new Facebook messaging system the central and important part is the content, and the more basic process that we want to abstract ourselves from is the medium, either if it is email, SMS or instant messaging. On the other hand abstraction removes control from the user to the underlying layers, that is why many hardcore computer users still prefer to use shell in their daily workflow
Facebook and Google
The diffusion of the new messaging system is first provided to some users, this as a part of the beta testing, later I will presume that it will be diffused to all the users of Facebook. At this point the service has already got more users than most media platforms in the world. Hence, the success criterion should not be whether or not many users are signed up for this service, but if they will use it and let it replace their current email address. Much of the speculation lies whether this will change the power relation between Facebook and Google, who are said to be competing at the high stage against each other. If Facebook convert many email users to their new service, these may leave Google’s service Gmail, and that could turn the tables between the big boys in the information league. Even if Project Titan is not capable of replacing Gmail, maybe it will replace Google Wave, which will be removed from Google’s repertoire of web services soon (Maybe Wave will be an integrated part of Gmail at one point?). The bottom line lies in having user’s loyalty and their data.
Google has become the big tool provider, mainly because of their search engine which is integrated in most of their projects. Their uniqueness is build around data, as well as search in and combination of these. They have a fast and reliable model for finding information. Facebook, on the other hand is centred on your social network in which your friends and acquaintances are important. This can be found in their rhetoric, instead of providing you with for example an inbox with a pdf reader or statistics of your mail habits, they provide you with a box of memories. Just like in the old days when a box under the bed represented memories of the past.
What do I think?
I think Facebook mail can be an easy way of communicating with friends that are already within the Facebook domain, but I am sceptical to the service orientation where mails that are not sent by approved friend from Facebook can be discarded by default. I do also wonder how this social platform mail will be integrated with other parts of one’s social life. When I have to send a mail to my bank, electricity supplier or library I want to do that as another person than personally me. I am curious to test the new facebook platform and see how they have constructed their ideas, but from what I have seen I will keep my Gmail account.
The picture used to illustrate this article is borrowed from Robert Schoble. The picture is found on Flickr and is shared under a Creative Common licence. Please refer to last link for information.