This is a pretty straightforward one – Facebook’s messaging solution matters because Facebook matters to its users. Facebook is a compelling platform – keeping in contact with your peers is undeniably important. But here’s the rub – people are more likely to check Facebook than check email. So if I can send someone a Facebook message in the same way I can send them an email – I’m gonna opt for the Facebook method. If I can combine the two… that’s the killer feature. I can email someone and have them receive it when they check Facebook? Yes please.
What does this mean for business though? Facebook does remain a platform for people rather than professionals. Certainly some of the stuff I mention on my Facebook wall, to my trusted Facebook Friends, I wouldn’t want to be exposed in a business context. But at the very least, this announcement means that Facebook users are more likely to receive your email communications, as when they check Facebook, they’re checking their email at the same time. In terms of enabling timely communication, this could be crucial. Facebook’s mobile platform has always been strong, so assuming that they integrate this new feature then that provides another avenue for people to check their Facebook communications from any location.
The consolidation of various messaging types is very Google Wave-like, but that’s as irrelevant as Google Wave was. The type of communication doesn’t matter – just the fact that it can be seen in a timely fashion in a highly-available interface – that’s the key. In fact, Apple have very slowly been driving at this – by combining MMS and standard text messages in their iPhone application – and ultimately their Facetime platform will most likely merge with this. But they’ve missed the trick that Facebook have understood – the medium is not important. It’s all about the message.
Where is this going to fall down? GMail was a revelation because of threaded messaging and because it disregarded storage limitations. GMail’s spam and phishing filters are very good indeed. So Facebook needs to heed this – organised, unlimited messages with strong filtering of malicious communications will swing this for them. Microsoft and Yahoo are still playing catch-up with GMail five years since its release – this is going to be a massive setback for them. GMail’s recent performance issues indicate that they could be struggling to stay still, let alone advance, so Facebook could capitalise on that.
Ultimately though, Facebook is going to be for personal use and GMail can be happy with corporate usage – it’s just a question of whether Facebook’s move will push email into irrelevance in the medium-term.