Facebook Messages – and the future of Internet communications

I’m fairly certain you heard about Facebook’s announcement today that they will be creating a new Facebook Messages, that looks a whole lot like what Google Wave was supposed to be when it was unveiled.  Essentially, it is a unified messaging experience.  SMS, Chat, E-mail, voice (Skype partnership?) and things we have yet discovered will show up in one place.  Zuckerburg stressed that this is not a new flashy version of email, but they will start offering @facebook.com accounts.

So is this really anything new, or just Facebook creating a more streamlined experience?  Its not just news because they are Facebook, its news because Facebook has a dimension that Google does not and therefore this attempt at “message” consolidation may actually work.  Further, could this spell the turning point for Google?

First, Google was wildly successful in 2004 when they debuted GMail, but Gmail was and still is a gateway drug for many people.  They get started on GMail and then end up using many other Google services like chat, etc.  GMail got many people to sign up with Google accounts to streamline the experience.  It didn’t hurt that they had a superior e-mail system at the time either, but it was not the only reason people switched.

Second and perhaps more important is the changing usage pattern of younger Internet users who view e-mail as “old” and only use it when conducting business or with “adults”.  if e-mail is secondary to you, then why bother having @gmail.com address?  Just get an @facebook.com account and now you can deal with all those “adults” much more easily.

Third, this could be the beginning of a fundamental switch in social activity on the Internet.  E-mail will not go away as it is well entrenched in the Internet infrastructure, but perhaps we are moving towards a more trust oriented online communications system since this email is also inherently social.

So if all social activity you do is in one place, and you can’t “tell” whether the other person is talking to you via email or SMS that brings with it some challenges.  Facebook is still a baby, while Google is a ten year old, Google has a personality and we generally know what they believe and how they will act.

As Tim Wu from Columbia put it very well in an interview today with the New York Times

“I think Facebook is looking for a mentor, they are looking for a role model. Right now it is choosing between Apple and Google in this great war between open and closed. It is possible that whatever side Facebook takes will have a lot to do with the future of how we communicate.”

If Facebook goes open or closed could be the quintessential question of this Internet generation (5-7 years).  I’m interested to use this thing and find out where it goes…



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