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E-mail secondary as Facebook revamps messaging
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Facebook is betting that one day soon, we’ll all be acting like high school students _ more texting and instant-messaging, at the expense of e-mail. Facebook unveiled a new messaging system Monday, and while CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t go as far as declaring e-mail dead, he clearly sees the four-decade-old technology being eclipsed by more real-time ways of communicating.
“We don’t think a modern messaging system is going to be e-mail,” Zuckerberg said.
Right now, Facebook’s Messages section is a lot like an e-mail inbox. The overhauled version, which will be rolled out to users by invitation in coming months, brings in cell phone texts, IM chats and e-mails from non-Facebook accounts.
All the messages stack up in one inbox, and they’re organized by the person sending them rather than the type of technology they use. For those who want one, Facebook will hand out facebook.com e-mail addresses _ mostly to make it easier to communicate with people who aren’t on Facebook.
“If we do a good job, some people will say this is the way that the future will work,” Zuckerberg said.
By making e-mail part of its communications hub, Facebook escalates its duel with Internet search leader Google Inc., which shook up online communications 6 1/2 years ago with its Gmail service. Google has said it will roll out more social networking features to counter Facebook’s growing popularity, and within Gmail it already lets people chat, e-mail and make phone calls.
What Facebook has that Gmail and others don’t have, however, is people’s real identities, plus a map of their real-life relationships and online interactions _ something Facebook likes to refer to as the “social graph.”
Facebook will use what it knows of these relationships to build a social inbox that not only filters out spam but messages it deems less important from strangers or overly chatty friends, and impersonal messages such as the phone bill. Those lower-priority messages will be tossed in a separate folder labeled “Other.” Users can also tell Facebook to automatically block messages that don’t come from friends.
To communicate with a friend, a Facebook user would click on the friend’s name rather than hunt for a phone number or an e-mail address. If that friend prefers to get text messages, that’s how the message will be seen. If the friend likes e-mail, e-mail it will be.
The messaging system, however, isn’t e-mail. It doesn’t use subject lines or “Cc” fields.
Facebook says it will store every missive sent between two people for eternity, unless they choose to delete it; the company likens it to this generation’s equivalent of a box filled with years of love letters.
But love letters can sometimes get into the wrong hands. Running a communications service within a social network may increase the chances that sensitive information gets exposed. One of the most common complaints about Facebook is that some updates and photos posted on personal pages are seen by more people than accountholders intended, either because they misunderstood how to program their privacy settings or because of a security breach.
Google learned the hazards of melding e-mail with socializing earlier this year when it planted a Facebook-like service called “Buzz” into Gmail. When Buzz launched in February, it was set up in a way that caused many of its early users to inadvertently open up lists of e-mail contacts to outsiders. The ensuing privacy flap elicited an apology from Google, which also recently settled a lawsuit over the misstep.
Zuckerberg dismissed notions that the Facebook service, code-named “Project Titan,” is a “Gmail killer,” as portrayed in the media. At the same time, he said he thinks more people will forgo lengthy e-mail conversations in favor of shorter, more immediate chats.
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