Facebook recently announced the launch of an innovative new communication tool called Facebook Messages, which seeks to revolutionise how people communicate with each other. Though the reaction has been mixed so far, the tool promises to change the way Facebook works dramatically. Here is a brief overview of what you can expect from this latest tool.

What is Facebook Messages?

Facebook Messages combines communications by email, SMS, instant messenger and Facebook message into one conversation stream that is categorised by person rather than by topic or source. This means that you can continue a conversation with a friend over many different media with no interruption.

The tool cuts out the need for all extraneous features like subject lines, greetings and so on, to create a minimalist social experience. The service will be rolled out to all of Facebook’s 500 million users in the next few months and users will be sent invitations to join. Part of the offering is the ability to set up an “@facebook.com” email address.

Expected benefits
Facebook representatives say that the tool will make communicating with friends seamless since messages can be created and shared through a wide variety of tools. Users can choose which medium they prefer to receive messages on too, making the user experience more enjoyable. In addition, the tool’s “social inbox” will only allow messages from friends and people you know, relegating spam, promotional messages and other communications (like bank statements) to a separate folder.

Facebook has a very poor track record when it comes to respecting privacy, and many are afraid that this tool will simply give the social network even more access to private user data. Commentators fear that Facebook may gradually lessen the privacy features on Messages, making it easier for companies and individuals to access the data and contact the user. Facebook also does not allow data stored in its service (contact information, for example) to be exported for use on another platform, which means that these details will effectively be locked into Facebook.

Finally, grouping all messages together in an informal and minimalist way removes some of the useful features of the existing media: for example, messages are grouped by person rather than by subject or date, making it potentially harder to discern at a glance where a relevant piece of information is. While this may appeal to a younger market, it makes the tool less useful for those who prefer other organisation systems.

About the author: Anna Malczyk is the content manager for the University of Cape Town Internet Super-User course, which starts on 11 April 2011. For more information contact Karin on 021 685 4775 or Karin@getsmarter.co.za, or visit www.getsmarter.co.za