Facebook's New Messaging: Five Reasons Why It Matters

Facebook made yet another big announcement today. The company introduced a new communications systems aimed at enhancing digital dialogue between friends and family. It isn't yet live, but you can request to be an early user of the new system here.  To get a sense of what Facebook's new messaging platform is about, check out its official 4-minute video at the end of this blog post.

Since it involves a new Facebook.com email address, some people shrugged the new functionality off as a weak email tool.  They're right — but that's like complaining an apple makes a poor orange.  The new platform is a poor email client because it isn't intended to be an email client. Instead, this is a new form of communications; as Mark Zuckerberg said (more than once) "This isn't email," and he's right.  Here's why it's worth paying attention to the new Facebook messaging platform:

  • It's a Gmail wounder.  There's been a lot of buzz about Facebook's messaging platform being a "Gmail killer." It isn't, but it's certainly going to wound Gmail and other popular email clients. With the combination of individuals’ social graphs and Facebook’s new functionality, Facebook will succeed at pulling away some time and attention from Gmail, but it won't kill Gmail or other email clients. Facebook isn’t interested in being a management or response tool for your flood of bills, email newsletters or other communications; instead, it’s about facilitating and enhancing your personal relationships.  Facebook wants to be the platform for personal communications and leave the boring stuff to Gmail and others. 
     
  • Facebook is responding to privacy concerns. Facebook announced it will not utilize the content of users' personal messages to target advertising.  This is surprising, considering doing so is typical among Web-based email clients; both Gmail and Yahoo Mail scan users' email messages for keywords in order to better serve relevant advertising.  At some point Facebook may do so as well, but not now. Why not? Because Facebook knows it has to earn more trust. It’s size and increasing importance to consumers’ private communications means it has to proceed with caution at monetizing consumer data.  For now, Facebook is content to have more people spend more time sending and receiving messages, and that means more page views, ad impressions and revenue.
     
  • Kids will lead engagement, but adults will follow. The new Facebook messaging system will seem as comfortable as an old pair of shoes to kids who are already accustomed to communicating in brief bits of text that are threaded together within their favorite SMS applications. (As I noted in my last blog post, the average teen sends 3,339 texts per month.)  But while kids may take to the new messaging platform like girls to a Justin Bieber concert, it won’t take long for adults to join them; that’s because adults have an even greater need for messaging simplification. Managing a plethora of inboxes and digital communications channels has grown tiring, and Facebook looks to capture time from overworked adults who want to focus on people, not technology.
     
  • Once again, it reinforces that Facebook is for friends. With each new feature, Facebook is making clear it is intended as a place to connect with real friends, not manage thousands of soft relationships.  The new messaging platform will be overwhelming to people who have “friended” thousands of people on Facebook.  Not only will the benefits of Facebook messaging be lost on someone trying to manage thousands of streams, but it also eliminates one of the key benefits Facebook is offering — a spam-free, highly personalized dashboard of communications with people who most matter. 
     
  • Facebook isn’t done innovating. My Twitter friend Steve Furman recently said to me, “Nothing kills innovation like success.”  He’s right, it takes strong leadership to keep investing in innovation after the war is won, but it’s necessary (because the war is never really won).  Just look at MySpace — once the king of the social media hill, it stopped developing new features and bled users as Facebook out-innovated it. But Facebook is not sitting on its laurels.  Having amassed 500 million users, 700 billion minutes per month of users' time and 30 billion pieces of content each month, it would be darn easy for Facebook to start relaxing and enjoying its place as the second most trafficked Web site in the world.  Instead, it keeps seeking ways to make the platform a more usable and essential place for managing relationships, and that promises to make 2011 an interesting year for marketers and users alike.
     

Comments

Great Post

I personally think that FB will out innovate Google and use their platform to eventually become the platform of choice for personal and business uses-inside the firewall of enterprises...People want to use one platform and that is where FB is moving towards--blurring the line between personal and professional...crossing all genders/ages--in short, awesome...

Personal only versus peronal-business

Thanks Nancy. I see something differrent--with each new feature, it seems Facebook is become more personal and perhaps even a bit less open. I don't really see Facebook trying to accomplish professional or enterprise objectives, but you could certainly be right! Time will tell.

Thanks for the dialog!

I think a prerequisite for

I think a prerequisite for new FB functionality to be useful is that you actually log into FB and interact with folks to begin with. Having found FB to be a tedious and ugly user interface, I long ago abandoned it in favor of a single column within Tweetdeck. I rarely ever log into Facebook.com and can't see what use their new functionality would be to me. Despite their impressive release of statistics, I know I'm not the only one in the world who uses it in this fashion. Much as folks don't always go to google.com in order to perform google searches, I think it is a bit of Yahoo hubris on the part of Facebook to suspect it will be the social hub in the future. I suspect it will become one of many sources of social info streaming in as opposed to the central dashboard (dare I say social portal). But hey, let's check back in 5 years and see who was right. :-)

Hubris?

Chris,

Thanks for the comment!

So, you think it is hubris for Facebook to see itself as the social hub despite the fact it has amassed 500M users and in the US the average user spends more time with Facebook than with Yahoo, Microsoft and Google sites combined? Personally, I think Facebook is already there (but I'd agree it doesn't mean it always will be.)

I grant you some people use Tweetdeck or other tools for managing and monitoring their Facebook presence, but that is clearly the exception and not the rule. Doing so also prevents you from availing yourself of some portion of Facebook features (such as photo galleries, social games and the new messaging platform.) You'll have to check back in with us in another year to let us know if you're still managing your Facebook presence without actually accessing Facebook!

Thanks for the thoughts.

A Play for revenue

Great post as always Augie.

In listening to yesterday's announcement, I was struck by how this is a very strgon attempt to add value to the existing user base...but one that is a very strong revenue play. Anything that keeps eyeballs on Facebook longer provides additoinal real estate that the company controls. This launch builds additoinal revenue streams in the same was Gmail did for Google. Many wondered why Google would be willing to put the resources into a free e-mail system, until it became obvious that doing so launched an entirely new revenue stream.

By creating a new value add communicatoin tool that doesn't immediately (or at least completely) disrupt the status quo, Facebook gains a significant new revenue stream without being perceived as some massive immediate threat to the existing infrastructure.

I'm excited to see what this thing in action.

Excited to see it in action

Sean,

I'm excited to see it in action, too. And I agree--considering the role Facebook plays as a facilitator of relationships, this new functionality seems to fit well into its core offerings.

Can FB do it all??

Great Post as usual and thanks for the link to request for invite to be an early user.

I too am eagerly waiting for this to come into execution in toto!

As said by some Facebook is trying to create a different kind of internet, the concern is whether it will go the yahoo way- we can do it all or will it stay focussed?
Even if its only for personal purpose and not the boring stuff there is still a lot out there
within that domain...and its tuff for one to do it all...
hopefully it being more open as a platform will help it stay ahead for a longer time to come but still...