Facebook Unveils New Messaging System

Facebook unveiled a new messaging platform Monday that takes aim at one of the Internet’s first applications, e-mail.

Facebook unveiled a new messaging platform on Monday that takes aim at one of the Internet's first applications, e-mail. Photo: Edencc/Flickr

Swatting down recent rumors that it’s launching a ‘Gmail killer,’ Facebook today unveiled a new messaging system that will envelope e-mail, instant messages, Facebook messages and SMS.

Although tech blogs had been speculating that Facebook Inc. would announce an e-mail service to rival Google Inc.’s Gmail and others, Facebook said e-mail service was just one component of its plans.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday unveiled a major overhaul to Facebook’s messaging system, which he said currently fields 4 billion messages a day. “This is not e-mail,” Zuckerberg said. “We don’t think that a modern messaging system is going to be e-mail.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched what he calls a “modern messaging system” to handle the convergence of different kinds of messages and bring them together under one social umbrella.

The system, which has been in the works for about 15 months, is designed to save all messages for five years, meaning users will have a history of their communications. It will initially be invite-only, with broader access coming in stages. Users can request access on Facebook’s site.

Facebook focused on three priorities: seamless integration across multiple communications channels, a single conversation history, and a “social inbox” for filtering messages.

Every user will be able to snag an @facebook.com e-mail address. As part of the update, Facebook landed the FB.com domain, which now redirects to Facebook.com.

But the new system is modeled more on chat than on traditional e-mail, Facebook Director of Engineering Andrew Bosworth emphasized in a demo showing off the new interface.

There are no subject lines or cc fields. Instead, the system unifies conversations that are happening through SMS, chat, e-mail or Facebook messages. The system also sorts messages, prioritizing notes from close contacts and tossing the remainer into an “Other” folder.

IMAP support is coming soon, Zuckerberg said, and an updated iPhone app is in the works.

Bosworth played up the new system’s archival features. Conversations are stored, giving users a complete record of their communications with friends and family.

“People used to have boxes of letters. Where is my box of letters?” he said. “It’s locked up in a few phones. It’s in several places. Until now.”

The fight for your inbox: With its new mail system, Facebook is taking on some deeply entrenched giants in the e-mail space. Microsoft’s Hotmail has 361 million users worldwide, and Yahoo is No. 2 with 273 million. Google’s Gmail — which became widely available in 2007, more than a decade after Hotmail launched — is a distant third, with 193 million users.

For the last four days, the Internet has been abuzz with speculation that Facebook was getting ready to launch an e-mail killer. Zuckerberg kicked off today’s news event by saying that’s not the case.

“There was a lot of press leading up to this saying this is an e-mail killer,” he added. “This is not an e-mail killer. It’s a messaging system that has e-mail as one part of it. ”

“I don’t expect people to wake up tomorrow and say, ‘I’m going to shut down my Yahoo account or my Gmail account.’ We expect that more people will IM and more people will message just because it’s simpler and easier and it’s more fun and valuable to use,” he added.

Bosworth and Zuckerberg also pointed out that the messaging system doesn’t exclude non-Facebook users. Users will be able to send and receive messages from people who aren’t on Facebook.

Mark also noted that the system will offer different messaging channels that gives users a social inbox and a way to get messages filtered to them from friends of their Facebook friends.

“It seems wrong that an e-mail message from your best friend gets sandwiched between a bill and a bank statement. It’s not that those other messages aren’t important, but one of them is more meaningful,” he said.

He continued: “With new Messages, your inbox will only contain messages from your friends and their friends. All other messages will go into other folders where you can look at them separately.”

According to online data tracker Compete, Yahoo Mail drew 44% of U.S. traffic to Web mail clients in September, with 72.8 million unique visitors. Hotmail landed second place, with 30% market share and 48.5 million visitors. GMail holds 15% of the U.S. market, drawing 25 million monthly visitors.

AOL, which pioneered online e-mail for the masses, has seen its audience dwindle to a comparatively scant 31 million. But the company is taking a fresh run at the challenge. On Monday, it unveiled “Project Phoenix,” which aggregates mail from AOL, Google, Yahoo and other systems into one inbox. [via CNN Money and Computer World]

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