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Facebook rolls out new messaging system

November 15, 2010 | 12:08 pm

Facebook In a direct assault on e-mail vendors like Google and Yahoo, Facebook unveiled a unified messaging system on Monday that allows users to communicate with each other across mediums like e-mail, text messaging and online chat services.

"We modeled it more closely to chat and reduced the number of things you need to do to send a message," Joel Seligstein, a Facebook engineer, said in a blog. "We wanted to make this more like a conversation."

Seligstein said that e-mail was too cumbersome and bulky, especially for the "next generation" who have grown up with online chat, text messaging and cellphones as an integral part of day-to-day life. The new service -- which will roll out over the next few months by invitation -- will give users the chance to snag an e-mail address as it integrates e-mail, text, online chat and Facebook Messages into one "social inbox" accessible on smartphones and computers.

Although some have dubbed the service the "Gmail Killer," Facebook was quick to point out that it was significantly different from e-mail: "To be clear, Messages is not e-mail.... There are no subject lines, no cc, no bcc, and you can send a message by hitting the enter key," Seligstein said.

At the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco on Monday, founder Mark Zuckerberg also dismissed the suggestion that Messages would slay e-mail overnight.

"We don’t expect anyone to wake up tomorrow and say they are going to shut down” their e-mail accounts, he said.

But the launch could resolve some enduring complaints about Facebook's messaging system, which was originally dreamed up for back-and-forth conversation like text messaging. With this bid, Facebook could lure users to spend even more time on the social-networking site as it streamlines and aggregates communications.

"Relatively soon, we'll probably all stop using arbitrary 10-digit numbers and bizarre sequences of characters to contact each other. We will just select friends by name and be able to share with them instantly," Seligstein said. "We aren't there yet, but the changes today are a small first step."


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-- Shan Li

Photo: Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces a new Facebook messaging system at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images