Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Live from Facebook's Email Messages Launch

Facebook has called the press to yet another launch event, this time in San Francisco for a new Facebook email system. Luckily, they brought their own cafeteria chairs so our butts will feel right at home after a long summer of launches at the company’s Palo Alto, Calif., office.

At the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco, Mark Zuckerberg says young people say email is too slow. They prefer Facebook or SMS.

Zuck: IM or SMS are much simpler, and people want lighter-weight things that they can use all over the place. So we need…a modern messaging system.

350 million people actively use messaging on Facebook, in part because it’s really simple. Four billion messages are sent per day. This is “private, private sharing.”

Next-generation messaging would be: seamless, informal, immediate, personal, simple, minimal and short. (Those are a lot of synonyms, no?)

“This is not email. Email is one way that people will use this system, but it’s not even the primary way we think they will use it.”

Now a three-panel slide is up showing the key topics of the announcement–”seamless messaging,” “conversation history” and “social inbox.” Zuckerberg promises, “We can do some really good filtering for you to make sure you only see messages you really care about.”

Zuck brings on Andrew Bosworth to demo the product.

So this is actually a relaunch of the “Messages” tool. Not email-specific. Takes all correspondence between two friends and puts them in one place.

Everyone gets an @facebook.com email address with their username. “As much as we’re providing an email address, the system’s not email,” says Boz–more like instant messaging.

Boz uses convo about dinner plans as an example, with messaging across different platforms, including IM on Facebook, email, iPhone notifications, etc. The example restaurant is Piccino in San Francisco, where, fun fact, I was for a short time the Foursquare mayor. No longer though.

Integrates with Jabber, IMAP and one more I missed. (Sorry, first time liveblogging with this tool!)

Boz shows the history of Facebook messages with his girlfriend of the last four years. But doesn’t include their instant messages and other communication. Individual messages may not be profound, but collectively they provide a narrative about someone I care about, says Boz.

Facebook rebuilt infrastructure for this project, because it’s especially important that messages don’t get lost.

Instead of Cassandra (which FB created for email search and then open sourced), the company chose something new: HBase. They also used Haystack, Thrift, ZooKeeper and memcache.

This is the biggest engineering team Facebook has ever put together for a launch–15 people, Boz says.

Users have three categories: 1) Messages: Conversations with actual people. 2) Other: Email lists and the like. And 3) Junk.

The big idea is “picking up where you left off” no matter what device or medium.

This project has been in the works for the last 15 months.

Zuck: “This is not an email killer. This is a messaging system that includes email as a part of it. We don’t expect anyone to wake up tomorrow and say, I’m going to shut down my Yahoo account or my Gmail account and switch to Facebook.”

(Read: You silly press, we’re not competing with Gmail, we’re bigger than Gmail!)

Rolling out slowly over the next few months, starting with an invite system (ha! how Gmail!).

Oh, about IMAP: No support yet, so users can’t synch with other email systems. But Facebook wants to add later.

Interesting: Facebook messages won’t have subject lines. You just have a single messaging history with each person.

If you have been interacting with someone through email, then we’ll send replies back to email. You can indicate that you want a message to go directly to their phone. If you’re online, you get a message as an IM.

Boz: This is the end of “BRB” or “GTG.” Follows you wherever you go. (Sounds ominous when you say it like that.)

Question from audience: Will you add voice or video?

Zuck: For now only SMS, IM, email and FB messages–all are text. “We think this is a pretty big step by itself, and one we just wanted to take before we get started on the next set of things.”

Question from audience: Will you have contextual ads?

Zuck: Yes, ads work the same as on the rest of Facebook, but not targeted specific to content in a message.

Zuck on Gmail competition: “They have a great product. Email is still really important to a lot of people. If we build a great product that people want to use, then people will use it.”

Question from audience: Can users go off the record like in Gmail?

Boz: Users can delete any message.

Zuck: Off the record like in IM doesn’t make sense because users may be receiving messages in a different way than you send them. If someone gets something in email instead of IM it would be unnatural to have it off the record.

Question: How will this treat communication with people who are not on Facebook?

Boz: You can communicate with whoever you want to, and will have access to all that history of the conversation.

Zuck: If you’re not a part of the FB system and outside the social graph, your emails to FB users will go into “Other” folder to start off with, rather than the main. Once the recipient says you’re an important person, you’ll go into the main folder.

Question: What about silly joke emails from your mom? Can you filter those?

Zuck: There’s only one thread with every person.

Question: What about Facebook employee email addresses?

Zuck: “After a long discussion, the Farm Bureau has agreed to give us fb.com. And in the terms of that we have agreed not to sell farm subsidies.”

Facebook hasn’t mentioned this, but Microsoft just emailed to make sure people know they’re involved.

“As part of Facebook’s new messaging system: http://apps.facebook.com/facebooklive/ –Microsoft is integrating the Office experience. Over the coming months, customers will be able to access and share Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents as attachments to their Facebook messages. Sharing new ideas, key points of inspiration and important information just got easier–even when the need to access or share that content strikes in the middle of your latest status update.”

Question: Can you fill in the blanks of associating email addresses with Facebook friends?

Boz: Not yet, but it’s imaginable.

(Uh-oh–how is this going to work when people have multiple contacts for themselves?)

Question: Storage?

“If you’re a good user, you have no concern. For people who try to find limits, they will find them.” Another ominous comment from Boz.

Okay, they’re cutting us off.

Here’s the Facebook blog post on the announcement.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik