You may have heard that Facebook was deviously plotting the end of Gmail and others by creating an email platform of their very own. Well, we tuned into the announcement for a little more insight, and I'd like to share a few takeaways. Turns out email's still not dead (no surprise there), but Facebook would love to be the center of the messaging experience for their 500 million users.
What it really is.
The most important thing to understand is that Facebook's primary goal was to create a seamless messaging platform, and email is one piece of that. While it's true that all users will have access to a new @faceboook.com email address, the goal is to fill a gap in an overall messaging system, which includes their mobile apps, instant messaging inside the application, texting and more. Email, therefore, helps round out a suite of options for communicating inside the Facebook ecosystem. (Oh, yeah — we called it an ecosystem.)
Why they built it.
They wanted to build a modern messaging system that eliminates the "friction" of traditional communication channels. In other words, they're simplifying the notion of a conversation between two people, without restricting the channel that the message goes down. For example, let's say I email my friend at her new Facebook.com email address. That friend happens to be logged into Facebook, so my message shows up in a chat dialog box. She responds to me in her chat window, and Facebook sends me her reply via email, since that's where my message originated.
What does it mean?
The announcement raises some interesting questions about the future of social media and how we might integrate different forms of communication. Still, HTML emails — like the ones you send in Emma — will probably be a challenge for Facebook. There's a lot of complexity rolled into how Facebook will decide how to route a message, so HTML seems like a difficult hurdle.
We'll plan some serious testing to see how their filtering and sorting works. Your messages will be sorted with something similar to Google's Priority Inbox, depending on your user preferences, so we'll have to see what that means in terms of even getting a message into someone's inbox, much less what folder it lives in once it's there. It's easy to see from the outset, though, that this system was built for users, not for marketers — all the more reason to make the content you send valuable.
They didn't talk about fan pages at all in their announcement, so many people have questions about whether becoming a fan of a brand is the same as adding someone as a friend and how that relates to inbox sorting.
We'll just have to keep everyone posted as they release it and we can test it more. In the meantime, we put together a graphic to help make sense of it all.
(Additional writing by Jim Hitch.)