Everyone has been talking about the rumor and now announced Facebook messaging that is not email. There is a ton of coverage of the announcement already. People are already complaining that it is not a GMail killer, or that it is not appropriate for business or that you can not “cc” anyone. Facebook will argue that this is not the point, and I agree for the most part. Take a look at the language in the announcement, “Imagine the kind of family you might see in a modern American sitcom”, “It should feel more like a human conversation”, “You decide how you want to talk to your friends: via SMS, chat, email or Messages”.
Facebook’s target was casual communication that everyone already has on Facebook, but making it more private without needing weird privacy selections on your update. They also give you a facebook.com address so that you can receive email from outside the Facebook environment. They also throw some of GMail’s priority inbox magic into the mix with “Social Inbox”, where messages from people that are not in your Facebook network go into your “Other” folder.
Let me first say that I will not be using Facebook messaging as my primary communication tool. However, what Facebook has done is pure genius. Facebook took some of the difficulties of email out of the equation. By removing the subject, they make communication more informal and more like chat. If you are away from your PC, they make it easy to forward your messages to where you want, your phone, your IM or email. Services like AwayFind have been doing this for other users, now Facebook baked it into their messaging system.
This also gives people a way to stop relying on their address book. Because you are connected on Facebook, you do not need to remember their email address, you just need to remember their name. That person can receive the message in their email or other preferred method of contact. This is still true even if you no longer have a valid email address for that person. People have been looking for a way to do this for years.
Because people are spending so much time on Facebook, it will be easy for them to start using the new messaging system. They already use the existing system, and these new features will make messaging even more useful to them. This also greatly threatens traditional email for the casual user. I am not talking about business users, I am talking about friends sending messages to each other. Why would these casual users go back to email? Why go to AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo or GMail? All of the people they want to chat with are on Facebook.
Another reason to worry is that Facebook already has a massive user base of over 500 million people. Even if only 10% of their users convert in the next few months, that is already 50 million people using their messaging system. People will convert to the new system because it is similar to the old Facebook messaging system. People will convert because all of their friends are on Facebook. GMail does not need to worry, all email providers need to worry. Facebook messaging is going to change everything. Either users will convert in large quantities or other email providers will incorporate similar features. It is only a matter of time.