Facebook Messaging: One Inbox to Rule them all
History is littered with solutions to problems we never knew we had. Betamax was a better alternative to VHS tapes, Sony Mini Disc was more portable than CDs, HD DVD was cheaper to implement than Blue-ray DVD. But just because something solves a need doesn't insure success. Does the world need Facebook mail? No. Will it succeed? Maybe. I think that Facebook, in opening up the ability for users to have an email account, must be thinking long-term. A recent unscientific poll on LifeHacker.com revealed fewer than 10% of respondents saying that they would use such an account. That may be typical of those of us with multiple accounts already—one for business, a couple for home, another Gmail account that checks both just in case, one we use just for signing up for things that have a high probability of spam. I certainly don't need another mail account. But that may just be me.
The chief complaint that I've read is that most people already have their mail accounts with their businesses and have a second email account for personal use with Google, Yahoo, MSN or some other webmail-based service. Clearly, Facebook's strategy isn't to replace business mail—they want to be the hub of your personal email. And why not? As people switch jobs, Facebook can offer a permanent email program that users can take with them forever. Couple that with the ability to integrate that with an already-established social network and I can clearly see the appeal. Right now, if someone contacts me, I can read the message in my email program or my webmail window. But if I want to reply, I need to leave that environment, log into my Facebook account and reply using that account. While not particularly onerous, the steps are not unobtrusive altogether. Facebook has the opportunity to offer a way of connecting users in a more streamlined way—messages can be responded to directly from the browser window where the email is received. This makes for a simpler and more expedient user interface.
But I think the true aim of any Facebook mail isn't those of us with email accounts already. It's for those who are young enough that they don't already have an allegiance to another email system. For those, a Facebook account is as logical as being able to port a telephone number between carriers. And once established, it is an address that can last a lifetime. That's what Facebook is counting on.