Facebook Adds Email and Modernizes Communications

350M people send 4B messages on FB – every day. Is it time to modernize communications? Facebook says yes. Want to know more? Here are my press conference notes and a few videos, including a video interview with Facebook’s director of engineering, Andrew Bosworth [who went to 14 proms, according to his profile].

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder
, observed that email is too formal with weight, friction and cognitive load versus sms & Facebook chat. Code named Project Titan, Facebook‘s new messaging system’s three main features: seamless messaging, conversation history and a social inbox. Hat tip to FT.com for a first look at Facebook’s new messaging system with email.

Although they’re weren’t there, literally, Mom and Grandmother came up several times in the Facebook’s press conference. It’s clear the team values familial inter-generational communications. “One of the goals of Facebook is to make it easier to stay in touch with people you care about,” is a direct quote from the press conference. What do you think these changes mean for marketing and PR?

Reader’s Guide: Notes typed during the press conference. Accuracy is not guaranteed. Spelling and grammar are not perfect. Please feel free to correct any mistakes.

Watch live streaming video from facebookinnovations at livestream.com

Notes from November 15, 2010 Facebook Press Conference

Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the conference with an introduction to the three main features.

Facebook Communication System Adds Email

1. Seamless Messaging

across all ways people communicate, including email, but not only email

2. Conversation History
thinks emails threading model is so archaic, a lot of the more modern communication is one thread that has a lot of interesting properties in the course of one conversation

3. Social Inbox

Because we know who your friends are, we can do some really good filtering for you. There are a lot of different classes of junk. The real way to deal with spam and filtering is to build lists, but nobody wants to make lists, on Facebook you can do that automatically without ever having to do any work at all.

Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering, went into more detail.
1. Seamless Messaging
Facebook brings all together: text/sms, Im/chat and email. Technology should get out of the way. You only need two things: a person and a message. A conversation is between two people. Facebook will match their username. The system is definitely not email, it’s more modeled after chat.

iPhone application is launching with the rest of the product.

People should share however they want to share.

2. Conversation History
Powerful idea. His grandmother has this – she has a box of letters from his grandfather in the closet. Context isn’t wasted, individually messages may not be profound, but collectively they mean something.

Modern messaging has to support attachments, extended photosharing Haystack to support photos. The biggest engineering team Facebook has ever put together for a product, 15 people.

3. Social Inbox
Mom deserves better than being sandwiched between a message from a bank and a bill. By default, you will see messages from friends and friends of friends only. Can move people into messages, other and junk folder. Every row will be a conversation. Other folder is things you don’t care as much about. Will be looked at maybe once a day. One of the last things, and most powerful, is that people get control over who gets their attention. Without the social graph, you don’t have that control.

You can now pick up with friends right where you left off on any device.

“We’re really proud of this. It’s a huge problem, not just scaling huge system, but on top of that layering email and other systems. This is not an email killer. This is a messaging system that includes email as one part of that.” What we think is happening, what we expect is more people will IM and engage because it’s simpler, more valuable and more fun. 1-2 years out – people will think that shorter messages are the way to do it – we’re moving more towards simple and real time.

Rolled out over next few months – starting off with an invitation system.

Questions about Facebook and email from the press . . . .

What does the system not do that Facebook wants it to do?

We want to have IMap support. IT already speaks email protocol; want it to sync with email systems. A lot of things it doesn’t do – having subject lines with multiple threads. You have a single conversation history with each person.

How do you decide which contact point the message gets sent to?
This is one of the complicated things they had to work out. A person can trigger from the interface – sms to phone. Try to deliver stuff as quickly as possible. If you’re online, a message can be delivered as an IM. Goal: to have it feel like a conversation. There’s a lot of dial to turn here. Tried to make it so that people don’t have to think about this stuff.

Any plans to add a VOIP or video component?
Sms, im email and Facebook messages – all text. This is a pretty big step to take by itself.

Advertising plans – impact on rivalry with Google?
Advertising works the same way it does for the rest of Facebook. Their ad system os based on what you put in. You put in that you like Greenday and you’ll get ads for concert tickets. “I think Gmail is a really good product.” The code name for this project is Titan the last one was Gigabox. This isn’t a Gmail killer, this is a Gigabox killer. This simpler kind of messaging is how a lot more people will shift their communication. This project also works with gmail users.

Gmail has a nice off the record chat feature
Users can delete conversations or be off view. All the different channels are unified.
People can say I don’t want info stored, can delete threads. Converging systems integrate channels.

Was this the biggest technical challenge to Facebook to date? How do you see Facebook changing the way people communicate?
Big challenge, but don’t want to compare to others. If users are used to IM, chat, email, they all will work the same way, Hope – we would feel like we’re a lot of continuous conversations with people we care about.

How does system allow you to refine the social graph?
The way people communicate is really important, focusing on people you say are your friends. That’s all private, that’s just for you. Doesn’t matter if a person is not a Facebook user, you can still communicate with email.

How does Facebook interact with people who are not on Facebook?

Facebook users have three folders: main, other and junk. If you’re not a part of the Facebook system, your info goes into the other folder to start out with, then the person can move you into their main folder. You’re using your network around you to make your world better – z

When you’re communicating with email versus Facebook – do those email addresses become a part of a Facebook users’ graph and how are you using that?
Messages from outside Facebook go into the other folder first and then you can use move them into the mail box. The email address is stored – have to do that for the product to work.

What happens to corporate email addresses?

After a long discussion, the farmbureau has agreed to give them fb.com. This was a big conversation internally. That brand is so important to the users, we really should give up Facebook.com and be something else. [The question may have been about corporate email addresses outside of Facebook.]

Many friends are more casual, does this mean that they can now start sending me emails?

With social design we’re always counting on meaningful relationships. Email is totally optional. At the same time, anyone who is already your Facebook friend, can send you messages.

One of the goals of Facebook is to make it easier to stay in touch with people you care about. The goal was never to expand the social graph, it was to map it out.

How do you send messages?

You can select send via sms. If your friend is not configured, Facebook will send an invitation.

How much storage space will each user be given? Can you forward messages?

Yes, you can forward and can add people to the thread. No specific numbers on storage.

More questions? Email Press@ facebook.com

Hey, what’s that you’re thinking?
Let us know in the comment box below.

Image credit: c2010 Phoebe Svoboda for thesociallens.com from the Arboretum summer set. For more information about the photographer or this image, call or text 630.207.7530.

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