Facebook on Monday announced what CEO Mark Zuckerberg described as the next generation of messaging.
It spans across a user’s messaging systems, offering retention of a user’s conversation history and a social inbox.
“We don’t think that a modern messaging system is going to be email,” Zuckerberg told his audience at the press conference in San Francisco.
“The weight and friction you have when thinking of the address you want to send an email to, write ‘Hi, Mom’ at the top, conclude it with all this extra stuff you have to add to an email really adds a lot of friction to the process of sending an email.”
Facebook’s new messaging system will integrate messages from any of several media — SMS, email, Facebook messages or IM — and will be simpler to use than email, Zuckerberg said.
The New Facebook Messaging System
Facebook’s new messaging system will offer seamless integration of all the ways users interact with technology, Zuckerberg explained. “Your phone, Facebook, other websites, email, IM should all be seamlessly integrated,” he said.
Facebook will give users email addresses on its domain, meaning they end in “@facebook.com,” but using these will be optional. “We don’t think email is the primary way people will use this system,” Zuckerberg remarked. “This product will seamlessly integrate across all communications products very easily.”
All communications between users will have one single thread regardless of the medium — email, SMS, IMs or Facebook messages. Users can delete the history of a conversation if they want to.
“In real life, if you talk to someone you have a stream of conversation through IM or SMS, you don’t have multiple threads. You have one thread with the person and that makes it simple to communicate with them,” Zuckerberg said.
The social inbox gives priority to users’ friends and “people they really care about,” Zuckerberg said. Users enter their friends’ lists and those friends enter their own friends’ lists, so when a user gets a message from one of the people on those lists, it goes straight to the social inbox.
Whitelisting, which is used by most email systems, is not a practical solution because “nobody wants to make lists,” Zuckerberg said.
A second inbox which users can check once a day will contain messages from people not close to them or from other sources. Users may scan this once a day or so, Zuckerberg said.
Facebook’s new messaging system will also have a junk mailbox.
Users can move correspondents between the boxes, said Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering at Facebook, said.
The Technical Details
Facebook rebuilt the infrastructure of its messaging system, Bosworth said. In addition to Cassandra, a structured storage system on a P2P network, it has invested in HBase.
HBase is an open source, distributed, versioned, column-oriented store modeled after Google’s Bigtable using Hadoop‘s HDFS protocol. “We have the second largest deployment of Hadoop in the world,” Bosworth stated.
Facebook also extended its Haystack photo storage infrastructure to support attachments.
Giving Gmail Love
The new Facebook messaging system doesn’t target email systems such as Gmail, Zuckerberg said. “This is not an email killer, it’s a messaging system that includes email,” he stated. “We don’t expect people to wake up tomorrow and shut off their Yahoo or Gmail accounts.”
Over time, though, as people find Facebook messaging simpler and easier to access and more fun to use than email, they may switch to the new system, Zuckerberg speculated.
Facebook will roll out the new messaging system “pretty slowly” over the next few months, inviting people to participate.
“This seems a very convenient way to correspond,” Andrew Eisner, director of community and content at Retrevo, told TechNewsWorld. “Facebook has more than 500 million users, so there’s a good chance that a lot of your friends and family are using it,” he added.
“This is more of a Google Wave killer than a Gmail killer,” Carl Howe, director of anywhere consumer research at the Yankee Group, told TechNewsWorld.
Google wave let users communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos and maps. Any participant can reply anywhere in a message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Users can play back a wave to see who said what and where. Google Wave provides real time communications.
However, Google killed off Wave in August because it did not garner enough interest.
“Google Wave didn’t really take off, and I wonder whether that’s a cautionary tale,” Howe said. “It could be that people use different media types and keep them separate for a reason.”