Facebook Messages is an Attempt to Fix What's Broken about Web Communication

Now that Facebook have announced their new messaging system, the reactions are pouring in: it has reinvented messaging; it’s trying to kill NYC start-up GroupMe; and of course, it might kill GMail.

But whether or not Facebook’s ‘Project Titan’ messaging revamp will kill anything is unclear. As with any new product – especially with Facebook – how people outside the tech world react is key.

But even if it’s a spectacular failure, Facebook’s new system is an attempt to fix what’s broken about electronic communication. While email, IM and texting were all boons when they were invented, they’ve become unwieldy and cumbersome, taking up too much time and requiring too much attention.

People have already spent a great deal of energy whining – saying things like they’d be too embarrassed to have a facebook.com email address – but Facebook’s solution to messaging is a big step forward

 

All Hail The Death of Email

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Facebook messaging tackles one major problem: it turns email into a permission-based form of communication.

For years now, once you have given out your email address, it is always open to anyone who wants it. Like posting your phone number online, it means that you no longer have permission over who can contact you. This is why email is now broken: anyone can get in touch you, and most people with jobs or businesses are deluged with email. Sure, GMail Priority Inbox helped, but all it did was filter things, not lessen the amount of email you get.

One might argue that you could simply keep your address private. But anyone who works or does business online knows this isn’t an option. You have to make yourself available at some kind of email address. How else do you address clients, or get new business?

Think about how insane it is that people who don’t work in communications still spend half their day answering email, or that ‘Inbox Zero’ – meaning all messages in your inbox are read – is now so rare that it’s a thing people celebrate.

By allowing filtering of messages to either Facebook friends or friends of friends, Facebook have essentially tackled one of email’s biggest problems: there is too much of it, and too much from people and organizations you don’t care about. Messaging becomes a closed loop between people who know each other, not a deluge of information simply thrown at anyone and everyone. You can open up your inbox and get straight to the things you want, not what other people want you to see.

It is, at least as an idea about where messaging is going, a sign of better things to come.

 

Bringing Together The Fragments

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If real estate is all about location, then 21st century web services are all about aggregation, aggregation, aggregation.

Facebook Messages unifies messaging across various platforms, centralizing your communication in a single place. This is great. While we usually communicate with work partners and clients through one form – say phone or email – we communicate with our actual friends and family through multiple forms: texts, chats, emails, phone calls etc.

By aggregating all of these activities together, Facebook makes it much easier to keep track of all those threads. I know I can’t be alone in making plans with people over text, email and the phone – by putting them all in one place (voice calls will be coming later), Facebook is tackling the other major problem of communication: fragmentation.

Even more neat is the idea that you can produce a narrative of your history with someone. Sure, that’ll be hell for when you break up with someone – but then, that’s what delete buttons are for.

 

A Murky Future: Will FB Ruin a Good Thing?

Now, all I’m saying is that this is a promising sign that someone is thinking about what’s broken in messaging today.

Facebook’s attempts are always a bit sketchy, and this is no different. There are bound to be privacy issues, and it’s useless to anyone who doesn’t want to use Facebook. That said, the idea behind these changes is solid, as it will make communicating easier and more straightforward.

What do you think of the new changes to Facebook? Could you see yourself using it? And what might some problems be with the new approach?

Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang
SEE MORE ARTICLES BY "Navneet Alang"

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Comments
  • http://www.kamikazemusic.com Dave Sparks

    So the fix to the problem of too much email is to limit who can send it to you but at the same time
    “You have to make yourself available at some kind of email address. How else do you address clients, or get new business?”

    Kind of contradictory surely?

  • Mark K

    Useful? Yes.
    Revolutionary? No.
    Family-friendly? Yes
    Business friendly? No.

    My point in the annoying intro to my comment is this: Sure, as with anyone else I’m all about making things easier, but this just won’t be any kind of life changing product. I can see this being useful for family members, mostly because I know some people aren’t as much into checking Facebook all the time as others. As far as close friends go though, come on… calling/texting is just fine. This is also pretty useless for business and I can see a lot of people not wanting to put an @facebook.com email on anything.

    I really apologize for the horrible sentences, but I think I got my point and opinion across.

  • Peter Chalker

    I can’t see how this is going to be that much different from our email systems at the moment, it will probably work similar to normal email.

    I have a Hotmail account that I’ve had since forever. I can block email addresses with Hotmail and I use their Junk feature all the time. After years of always marking spam and clicking the Junk button, I have pretty much eradicated spam from my email. But I still have to check the Junk folder once in awhile because, sometimes it thinks an email I want is junk.

    So what can “facemail” do to change email? Will they only limit incoming emails to “Friends” or “Friends of Friends”? That’s no different than the facebook messaging system they have now.
    What if I want to get email from someone who isn’t a friend? Let’s say I want to get emails from Techi, how would I be able to do that? Will I just have to use my regular email address? If they don’t limit the incoming emails, how will they stop spam? Will they have a pop-up that says “You have a message from blah blah blah, would you like to read it or mark it as spam?” If they do that, how do you know it’s spam? Will they have a button that says “Would you like to view this email to know if it is spam?” If they do, then this is just making you look at the email to know it’s spam, but that’s almost the same as regular emails.

    I really like the facebook messaging system at the moment, because I hate using email to message friends, I prefer to use the facebook messaging system. The only thing I can think of that will make this good, is that I can email attachments (other than links, photos and video) to my friends.

    I really don’t know how “facemail” will be different, but I’m very interested to see what they come up with.

  • http://www.hghreviews.org/ Bob

    I can’t wait. Trying to get an invite. Being able to message without thinking about the easiest way to get a hold of someone will be very nice.

  • http://www.penisgodzilla.com/ Bruno

    As much as giving that much control to FB irks me a little, I agree. The part that got me was about how they abstracted out all that stupid phone numbers, emails and other bulls**t and just allow people to communicate. If you think about it, that’s the core product of Facebook; that’s where people live online and you don’t have to worry about the small technical details.

  • http://www.porntested.com/ Duran

    I stronly contest the opinion that the old systems have “become unwieldy and cumbersome, taking up too much time and requiring too much attention.”

    They have not ‘become’ anything!
    What has happened is there is a new player on the block who is useless when you need to message someone who is not on Facebook.

  • http://www.varioustopics.com/ Sujen

    Sorry to interrupt but since I don’t really have any friends, none of my submissions will ever get any attention:

    Will somebody please do something about this??

  • david

    If you read http://lifehacker.com/5690722/why-you-shouldnt-switch-your-email-to-facebook ‘Facebook Messages Is Not Email, and Can’t Be’ section, i think they are on the money writing FB e-mails are just FB messages outside FB.

  • http://www.rogueeasyweb.com sakman

    This article reads like something from Facebook’s PR department.

    If Facbook’s un-intuitive and frustrating website layout is any indicator, their email won’t be much better.

    Sorry, you’ll never get me away from my Gmail account, it works perfectly with 5 addon pop3 accounts and zero spam.

    • Chris Thompson

      Well said. Gmail is the way to go. I have been using Gmail now for 5 years and I have tried every email service out there. Gmail is by far the best. No spam, ability to hook up in 3rd party mail apps for no charge and lightning transfer speeds for larger emails and file attachments. Not to mention the archived message backup you have online even if your computer that houses your mail app disintegrates! :)

  • ntlgnce

    If you want to know my professional opinion, Facebook cant even fix their broken site. I know several users that are currently “locked out, or blocke out, or the account has been deactivated” No they aint spammers, They are grade school kids, and adults. No they didnt add to many friends, or lie about who they are, and no they didnt spam anyone. My original account has been locked out for over 6 months, my issue is I added my cell phone #, Facebook asked me to verify it with a text, which went well, The next day I was trying to log in,when I did, I was redirected to a Facebook verification screen, It told me I needed to verify my cell number, So I entered it again, The page loads for a sec, then tells me that my cell number has already been verified, I get taken back to a login screen where the process starts over again. I have since made a different account, and re added all my friends. The original account is still stuck in the never ending loop. When you try to access facebook help, to possibly email someone, its non exsistant. I have posted on the facebook help page, however there is no answer that helps me, nor is there any way of contacting facebook directly. Other people I know (my sister, my ex girlfriends daughter, who knows how many, all have the same problem of not being able to get facebook to correct the errors. ( we all dont have the exact same symptoms, the symptoms range from accound disabled, to a request for personal information to prove they are who they say they are. ( they are both under 18,) My sister was given an oppertunity to identify one of her friends to prove the account belonged to her, and the picture that was chosen was a blurry photo of what appeared to be an elbow. People dont realize that who ever is writing facebook is worthless at scripting, and that if you have an issue with logging into facebook your pritty much on your own. I cant wait to see what happens when a lot of people try to use the new mail, and realize that they are screwed, when something goes wrong. Facebook needs to get a clue seriously. Facebook will fall, when the web turns into a different direction, just as MySpace has. Out with the old and in with the new..

  • Says it all

    4:00 of the video: “it’s locked up on a phone, it’s locked up in email, it’s not in one place” — oh, you mean “locked up in Facebook”?

    I really do like this idea, it makes sense (as does social networking software as a concept), but I absolutely loathe that a company as slimy as Facebook wants –and gets!– such a big piece of the pie.

    Do this right. Do it open.

  • http://momibello.com sasha

    why no mention of google wave in this article? (or analysis of its “failure”). facebook isn’t necessarily doing something new, innovative or revolutionary.

    on the other hand, i hope it fares better than google wave.

  • Trevor

    Programmers solved these problems years ago, and within programming communities there are no spam, there are aggregated threads. Not sure why the rest of society never picked it up, all email clients support it.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_signature or Public Keys

  • jt

    this seems a short sited and a little dum really. The best solution facebook can come up with to combat the problem of lots of emails is to block them all unless they come from a connected friend? And is it really a problem that needs fixing? What about when I buy something online, does the receipt get blocked until I add them as a friend? That just sounds like more work and quite unimaginative to me.

    Seriously, anyone using this instead of a dedicated email system like gmail or outlook is either really thick or 12 years old. Gmail is light years ahead.

  • William Lambert

    Great article. I appreciate your insights (because I agree with everything you said). :o) As someone who chooses not to use Facebook, I hope that what FB is trying to do is re-implemented elsewhere. I think Google is well positioned to do something similar. Chat and email are already aggregated – now all we need is an ingenuous GoogleVoice/Gmail marriage.

  • http://www.primalskill.com George

    Google Wave was marketed as a game changer, but instead it rides the waves of the abandonware waters.

  • http://www.kevinkane.com Kevin Kane

    Facebook messaging has nothing that would persuade me to switch from Gmail.

    Innovation and competition is great for everyone. But beyond the hype of Facebook messaging, I don’t see anything about it that is really useful for me.

    Comments on Digg seem to feel similarly: http://digg.com/news/technology/facebook_messages_is_an_attempt_to_fix_what_s_broken_about_web_communication

  • http://www.teamaton.com andrej

    as mentioned before: Google wave tried exactly that and while we are still using it, it has not come anywhere near ending email for us as a communication tool. However facebook has a much larger audience and user base than and that is why they actually could leverage a cultural change from email to a new medium.