Facebook Introduces Anti-Email: Social Inbox, Seamless Messaging, Conversation History [Video]

"We don't think that a modern messaging system is going to be email," said Mark Zuckerberg, who was widely expected to introduce an email system at Facebook's press conference today. Instead, the Facebook CEO was clear: "It's not email," he said. "It's a messaging system that includes email as a part of it."

What does that mean? Zuckerberg explained that unlike email (which has too much "weight and friction" from subject lines, addresses, etc.) Facebook's system, which will begin as invite-only and be rolled out over the next few months, will be seamless, informal, immediate, personal, simple, and minimal. Here are the three major features that distinguish Facebook's platform from regular old email.

Seamless Messaging

"This system is definitely not email," reiterated Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering at Facebook. "We modelled it after chat."

Facebook's messaging system is different than any other email service (namely, Gmail) in that it doesn't just collect email. Texts and SMS, IMs and chat, emails and Facebook messages—"they don't work that well together," explained Bosworth.

Now, they'll all be assembled into one thread, blurring the lines of what an "inbox" is. So, rather than having your texts stored on your phone, and your IMs stored on iChat, and your emails stored on Yahoo, Facebook will compile your messages into one place.

Additionally, Facebook will offer users an @Facebook.com email address, but it's not necessary to use the system.

Conversation History 

Related to seamless messaging, Bosworth complained that messages are "not in one place." Until now. Facebook will organizes all your messages with friends in one place, and provide a detailed overview of your conversation history across any platform. 

Users can scroll through entire conversation histories with their boyfriends or girlfriends, and see all types of messages—texts, emails, etc.—in chronological order. It's a stream of conversation—not a thread.

Social Inbox

"It's always a problem when I see a message from my mom and it's sandwiched between a bank statement and a bill," said Bosworth. "By default, you're going to see messages from your friends and their friends only."

On Facebook's system, the messages are entirely aimed at the social graph: messages are divided between messages with friends, other messages (say, a friend that you don't give as much attention to as your best friend), and junk.

"These are conversations with the people you care most about, no matter what device or what medium you want to use," Bosworth said.


"This is not an email killer," Zuckerberg concluded. He said the wide ranging reports of Facebook introducing a "Gmail killer" were over-dramatic. "We don't expect anyone to say, I'm going to shut down my Yahoo or Gmail account and switch exclusively to Facebook," he said. "We don't think that's what's happening in the world."

But that's not to say it won't happen eventually.

"Whether it's one day in six months, or a year, or two years," the Facebook CEO said, "this is the way the future should work."

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  • Tony Goodrow

    We just added a second email address to our volunteer management software to accommodate work and personal email addresses. This has me thinking we should add a third for @facebook.com.

  • Morgan Barnhart

    Zuckerberg is smart to say it won't be an email killers, since it certainly won't. It does sound promising, though!

  • Herbert Reininger

    Is it just me, doesn't this sound a lot like the (now dead) Google Wave?

  • Chris Carrillo

    @Herbert In the way it's kind of the opposite of Google Wave, because everything I did in Wave was locked into it's own interface; there was no good integration with email/gmail or Google Voice or SMS or anything outside of Wave itself. The protocols were all there for someone to build integrations with external systems, but Google failed to build the integrations themselves, which is really what the product needed in order to get the user base it needed to keep it from dying. Every time I was in Wave I felt like I was moving in slow motion in an insulated box with just two other people...

  • Naa the Great

    It does. It also kinda sounds like what google was trying to do with Buzz.