Facebook Debuts E-mail Service

Every Facebook user who wants a Facebook.com e-mail address will get one, the company says.

Thomas Claburn

November 15, 2010

4 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Facebook's New Messages Service

Facebook's New Messages Service

(click image for larger view)
Facebook's New Messages Service

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.

Facebook is also releasing a Messages API that will allow developers to create applications that present Facebook Messages in Facebook applications.

Facebook has built what amounts to a Gmail-style Priority Inbox that prioritizes Facebook Messages. A Facebook user who receives an e-mail message from someone outside of Facebook will see that message appear in the "Other" inbox, a repository for messages from contacts outside the system. Facebook users will be able to direct such messages to their main inbox if they specify as much.

Zuckerberg's description of the new Messages suggests that he views e-mail as a legacy service will be superseded by something simpler. "E-mail is still really important to a lot of people," he conceded, even as he suggested that Facebook's easier messaging would come to be preferred.

That remains to be seen. E-mail, observes Al Hilwa, IDC program director for application development software, is the "one of the oldest forms of social networking and is a de facto social network for people who are not using Facebook. There's more social networking happening over e-mail than on any social network."

Hilwa has concerns about how Facebook will handle privacy. "If you are not a Facebook user and send e-mail to someone on Facebook, should you worry that your e-mail will be scrubbed and that you get mapped into their social graph in unexpected ways that you did not sign up for?" he said.

The new Messages service will not be immediately available however. It will be rolled out over the coming months. At the moment, it is invitation-only. But when it becomes widely accessible, Facebook could become the leading e-mail provider in a very short time. Zuckerberg said that 350 million Facebook users use Facebook Messages and send 4 billion Messages daily.

As of September, 2010, Microsoft's Window Live Hotmail was the leading e-mail service, according to comScore's numbers, with 362 million unique visitors worldwide. Yahoo Mail came in second, with 273 million unique visitors worldwide that month and Google Gmail came in third, with 193 million. Fourth was MySpace Mail, at 34 million, and AOL came in fifth, with 31 million.

However, only Gmail is growing, at a rate of 21% from September, 2009, through September, 2010. During this period, Windows Live Hotmail saw a 3% decline in total unique visitors, Yahoo Mail lost 10%, MySpace fell 24%, and AOL declined 18%.

Facebook's entry into the e-mail market will present a serious challenge to incumbents.

About the Author(s)

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights