Facebook tries not to kill email

by Bruno Morency on November 15, 2010

Facebook released its new messaging platform today. As someone who spent the last 18 months building applications on top of email, here’s my take on the good, the bad and the ugly about that exciting announcement.

The Good

Google Wave 2.0

The basis of the new Facebook messaging is pretty much the same as Google Wave. Wave has failed miserably so can we predict the same fate to Facebook Messages? Probably not. The key difference is Facebook embraces email instead of trying to replace it. Google Wave was closed. Sure, the Wave protocol specification was opened but as a platform it was closed to every single company and individual person on the internet that already have an email account. The new Facebook Messages isn’t.

Focus on people

My key pet peeve about the inbox is it’s a dumb list of messages with the whatever came in last showing on top. Communication is about people and topics, not date received. DokDok’s Gmail contextual gadget inserts a “latest documents exchanged with …” button below emails for every contact in a conversation. Whether there’s an attachment or not in the email the buttons are there. People use that button a lot to find and preview attachments.

Saying Facebook has pretty good handle on people is an understatement but there are important caveats about the relativity of relationships. Jeff Bonforte of Xobni posted an eloquent post on this topic earlier today.

IMAP support

The rumors ahead of today’s announcement talked about POP access. POP? Really? IMAP access to emails in Facebook Messages is very good news for people who want to have an offline backup and access from any of the numerous existing email clients.

The Bad

IMAP is the API

Problem with IMAP is it’s an old outdated protocol. Anyone looking to build services that integrate emails from Facebook Messages –like CRM and collaboration apps– will need to do it through IMAP. Using IMAP to do anything more than displaying a time-based list of messages from a folder is pretty painful. We know, we went through this and built our own API on to access data from mailboxes (http://dokdok.com/email-api).

The Ugly

You think it’s hard to stay on top of your email inbox? Wait until it becomes the email+IM+update+SMS+telegram+smoke-signal inbox.

Focusing on important conversations from  such a feed like will probably be as easy and enjoyable as taking a sip from a fire hose.

(Image credit: http://mashable.com/2010/11/15/facebook-messages-walkthrough-pics)

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