The rumors began to fly last week that Facebook was planning to announce a "Gmail killer"—an email service that would obviate the need for ever leaving Facebook.
At Monday's press conference, however, we learned that the new service, dubbed Facebook Messages (or maybe sometimes Facebook Messaging—the branding is sort of inconclusive), "is not email." This isn't just semantics—it's really not email, because it lacks a lot of the functionality of email. For example, it's one-to-one, with no CC or BCC, and no subject lines. (Also, you send a message by hitting "Enter"—which I guess means you can't have line breaks in a Facebook message. To me, this is not a feature.) I can't see anyone who currently uses email dropping it in favor of this; rather it seems to target a demographic that doesn't use email anyway, but prefers texting and other fast, informal, short-form communications. Facebook Messaging just collapses these methods into a single format.
According to Facebook, the major features/benefits of the new service are:
- "Seamlessness": Get all your Facebook messages, chats and texts in one place; by activating your @facebook.com email address, those go to the same "inbox" too.
- Full Conversation History: See all your messages with a given person as "a single conversation." I'm not sure what's interesting about this. You can see all your conversations with a given contact in Gmail via search (or labels, if you prefer); most of the time it's really not necessary. (The screenshot here makes it laughably clear what little value this will have to most people; do you really need to see every "cya" and "kthanxbai" from years past?)
- Prioritized Inbox: Messages from your friends get priority; everything else is "other" or spam.
On Twitter, the general reaction from people over 30 was "meh." People may trust Facebook with potentially incriminating photos, but the kind of information that lives in your email (bank statements, for example) is judged too sensitive to leave in Facebook's hands.
According to one commenter on Gawker, the service "will not go huge" because "workplaces tend to block Facebook" and "no one in business will take @facebook addresses seriously," aside from the usual privacy concerns.
What else do people think?
PC Mag's Lance Ulanoff says he doesn't see this as a Gmail killer, but it will change the way we think about email: "The line between personal and private mail will become much more pronounced. The linear world of work email and even Gmail-style services will be about tasks, work and getting things done. Personal e-mail will be about fluid social interaction that can happen anywhere, at anytime and any way Facebook likes it."
ZDNet's Sam Diaz says the integration with SMS introduces duplication, and "duplication sucks." He also writes that seeing all his message history brought on an "overwhelming urge" to go in and clean them up. However, he commends Facebook for making everything opt-in and easy to turn on and off.
Computerworld's Sharon Gaudin focused on the fact that Zuckerberg failed to comment on how they will keep messages private and secure, which "raised some eyebrows" at the event and afterwards.
Fast Company's E.B. Boyd writes that the new messaging system won't serve ads and doesn't need an independent revenue plan, because it's just another way to bring people into the Facebook fold (and keep them there), so they can be monetized in more indirect ways.
A New York Times piece says Facebook Messages will further "chip away" at traditional email and quotes one analyst who says "They just made it so much more compelling to center my communications on Facebook rather than anywhere else … Google, Microsoft, Yahoo should all be worried." Another, however, says the prioritization system won't really work for grown-ups: "I am not friends on Facebook with my accountant, with my doctor, or with United Airlines," but that doesn't mean messages from those parties aren't important.
Also on Monday, Apple pretended to have a big life-changing announcement, which turned out to be that you can now buy Beatles songs on iTunes. No one, at all, anywhere, cared.
Clothing Brands Pay to Play at Boutiques.com
More interesting to me and other women who occasionally count consumerism as a hobby (you know who you are) was Google's Boutiques.com launch. Boutiques.com, which has no obvious Google branding anywhere, unlike every other blandly cheerful primary-color-splashed product they've ever launched, targets spendy online shoppers (women only, currently) with visual recognition technology from Like.com that allows you to build a personalized boutique based on your likes and dislikes (or "loves" and "hates"). The trick is, vendors pay Google to be included; as Bruce Clay's Jessica Lee puts it, the site is "one giant PPC ad wrapped in a bow."
SEL's Greg Sterling says the "un-Googly" site is not about search but rather "browsing and inspiration." He also notes that while it may "resemble other 'social shopping' sites such as Polyvore or Stylehive," the underlying technology is "much more sophisticated."
Ruud Hein is suspicious of the model; he thinks it looks dangerously close to a pay-to-play search engine and that Google is (again) treading in monopoly territory. (See also Ruud's great FAQ on how the site works; he even built his own boutique and found some luscious boots in the process!)
Have you tried it out? Did it nail your style? Does it make you nervous?
More Web Marketing Highlights
Boutiques.com isn't the only thing Google launched this week, natch. It also gave us Hotpot, a Yelp-like service that combines local search with social features like reviews and recommendations. If local search is your obsession, read thoughts from Vanessa Fox, Matt McGee, and Lisa Barone.
Barry Schwartz thinks Google's changing "Sponsored Links" to "Ads" has had a positive effect on click-through rates.
Bill Slawski says we'll continue to see "SEO is dead" posts as sure as the sun rises and sets, but the opposite is true: "SEO is a vibrant, growing field that constantly evolves."
Here's SEO Book's PeterD on why we should try to guess where Google is heading, rather than "chase the algorithm." (Trying to predict the future of Google sounds a bit like algorithm-chasing to me. Tomato, tomahto.)
Michael Gray says the best way to get links is by doing things that are press-worthy.
This one isn't related to search but it's interesting from a business development (and cult-of-the-millionaire) perspective: I enjoyed this interview with Alan Stillman, who founded T.G.I. Friday's, the first singles bar. Key quotes: "I opened T.G.I. Friday's the exact year the pill was invented" and "I didn't want to sell out, but I didn't not want to either."
Have a great weekend!