At a media event in San Francisco on Monday, Facebook introduced a forthcoming version of Messages, its previously internal messaging system, that combines SMS, chat, e-mail and Facebook Messages.
"This is not an e-mail killer," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "This is a messaging system that includes e-mail as one part of it."
It is, however, a lot like Google's Gmail, which also includes SMS (though Google Voice), chat (through Google Talk), and e-mail. Yet, Facebook isn't so much out to kill Gmail as it is to simplify the process of correspondence by emphasizing Facebook-style addressing: choosing a contact's name and sending a message, with the correspondence represented as an ongoing conversation.
"There are no subject lines, no cc, no bcc, and you can send a message by hitting the Enter key," explained Facebook engineer Joel Seligstein in a blog post. "...Relatively soon, we'll probably all stop using arbitrary ten digit numbers and bizarre sequences of characters to contact each other. We will just select friends by name and be able to share with them instantly."
Implicit in that description is the suggestion all communication will happen under a single domain, facebook.com, wherein all that complicated Internet addressing terminology vanishes.
While Mark Zuckerberg doesn't "expect people to shut down their Yahoo accounts," Facebook's decision to offer its users facebook.com e-mail address might just end up leading people to use other e-mail services less.
The new Messages will allow users to open Microsoft Office documents without leaving Facebook, or having Microsoft's software locally installed. That alone will make the service quite useful.