Facebook is beginning a roll-out of a redesign to its Web page that places more emphasis on notifications. It'll improve things for users for sure, but it's just the first step of a plan to give Facebook serious Web emailing powers.
Though the tweaks to Facebook's Web UI are pretty subtle, they'll probably have a big effect--starting with notifications. Currently these updates appear all the way down in the bottom menu bar's right hand side and it's pretty easy to overlook them. In the new format, notifications are getting a starring role on the top title bar, right up against the Facebook logo and the bigger search window. The upshot of this is that you'll notice when new content is popping up on Facebook, though it won't include those (annoying) third party app updates for long--they'll be disappearing in a month. The purpose behind this is to subtly remind you that Facebook can really be a real-time window into the online social goings-on of your friends...which might even tempt you to reconsider how much of your Facebook page you share with the world at large.
Secondly, that search bar is given more prominence in a central position, and it'll now rank people you search for in order of how close they are to you in the friend network--a literal interpretation of the famous "six degrees of separation" idea perhaps. The chat function is also given more attention, and appears beneath bookmarks on the left navigation panel, and your chat friend list is sorted by how often you talk to particular people.
See what we mean about subtle? The effects will be to make Facebook just a bit easier to use though, as well as making it seem a much more dynamic site. We're not talking anything like the fast speeds of Twitter status deliveries, but definitely less static. And this new emphasis on fast interactivity plays nicely into some more news that the guys at TechCrunch have heard about Facebook: It's planning a serious make-over of its messaging interface into a proper Webmail service.
This change, dubbed project Titan, could turn Facebook into a big competitor for other Webmail services--if only because over 400 million people use Facebook for fun already, and that kind of userbase can have serious effect on the competition: Why log into Gmail, when you can do it all in Facebook while instant-chatting with friends and playing Farmville? It also ties into Facebook Connect, and the new vanity URLs, which will form your Facebookmail address like yourname@Facebook.com. And, just to demonstrate that Facebook's serious about the Webmail business, the mail system won't just be accessible from inside Facebook, since it'll have full POP/IMAP support.
Should we say "caveat MSN and Google"? It certainly seems so, especially with rumors from Mark Zuckerberg himself that Facebook will be rolling out new features at a rate of about one per month.