UPDATE on Friday, February 11, 2011: We've begun expanding the rollout of Messages to everyone on Facebook. This will happen gradually over the next few weeks. Learn more about using Messages in this tour.
Originally Published on Monday, November 15, 2010:
Imagine the kind of family you might see in a modern American sitcom: loving parents trying to maintain a family unit with a teenager engrossed in text messaging, a college-aged child who is always chatting online, and various wacky relatives who spend their days sending "funny" emails to the family.
This is an admittedly exaggerated stereotype but one we see every day in movies, TV and advertising because most of us can relate to parts of it. Between mobile devices and the Internet we can be more connected today than ever before, but there is still a feeling that the technology can also act as a barrier between us. When I want to share with someone it should be as simple as deciding who I want to share with and what I want to say. It should feel more like a human conversation.
Today I'm excited to announce the next evolution of Messages. You decide how you want to talk to your friends: via SMS, chat, email or Messages. They will receive your message through whatever medium or device is convenient for them, and you can both have a conversation in real time. You shouldn't have to remember who prefers IM over email or worry about which technology to use. Simply choose their name and type a message.
We are also providing an @facebook.com email address to every person on Facebook who wants one. Now people can share with friends over email, whether they're on Facebook or not. To be clear, Messages is not email. There are no subject lines, no cc, no bcc, and you can send a message by hitting the Enter key. We modeled it more closely to chat and reduced the number of things you need to do to send a message. We wanted to make this more like a conversation.
Messages is built for communicating with your friends, so it made sense to organize primarily around people. All of your messages with someone will be together in one place, whether they are sent over chat, email or SMS. You can see everything you've discussed with each friend as a single conversation.
I'm intensely jealous of the next generation who will have something like Facebook for their whole lives. They will have the conversational history with the people in their lives all the way back to the beginning: From "hey nice to meet you" to "do you want to get coffee sometime" to "our kids have soccer practice at 6 pm tonight." That's a really cool idea.
The Social Inbox
It seems wrong that an email message from your best friend gets sandwiched between a bill and a bank statement. It's not that those other messages aren't important, but one of them is more meaningful. With new Messages, your Inbox will only contain messages from your friends and their friends. All other messages will go into an Other folder where you can look at them separately.
If someone you know isn't on Facebook, that person's email will initially go into the Other folder. You can easily move that conversation into the Inbox, and all the future conversations with that friend will show up there.
You can also change your account settings to be even more limited and bounce any emails that aren't exclusively from friends.
This kind of message control is pretty unprecedented and people have been wanting to do this with email (and phone calls) for a long time. Messages reverses the approach to preventing unwanted contact. Instead of having to worry about your email address getting out, you're now in control of who can actually reach you.
The Next Generation
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. We aren't there yet, but the changes today are a small first step.
We'll be launching Messages and email addresses gradually and making it available to everyone over the next few months. Once you receive an invitation, you'll be able to get started and also invite your friends to join you.
Joel Seligstein, a Facebook engineer, is relieved he no longer needs to keep track of which friends like texts vs. email vs. chat.