Facebook.com has recently announced that it will launch a new messaging system, which will provide facilities similar to those by other e-mail clients, such as Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail.
The social media site will facilitate its existing (more than 12 million in India) and upcoming members to create an e-mail address with '@Facebook.com' as suffix. Users can then send/receive/forward e-mail messages to Facebook and non-Facebook members, such as users of Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. Thus, Web users, who are not members of Facebook.com, will be able to connect, communicate and send e-mail to Facebook members through external e-mail systems and vice versa.
Interestingly, the social media site will not act just as an aggregator of e-mail messages. In fact, Facebook aims to make its new messaging system a conversation hub, where it will collect all interactions - in the form of chats, notes, e-mails and text messages - between two users.
Conversations will be classified under two folders named 'Inbox' and 'Other'. Bulk mails, spam and e-mail from people who aren't friends or friends of friends will be routed to the 'Other' folder; while messages sent by friends will be displayed in the 'Inbox'.
Considering the fact that Web users are already spending a significant amount of time on Facebook, this additional e-mail functionality will definitely help the social media site to retain traffic for a longer period of time.
Amit Bhartiya, general manager, Vizisense.com, believes that the very need of writing e-mail has already been reduced. He says, "Passive e-mail is giving way to a lot more context-based and active conversations on Facebook through Wall posts, comments, pokes, live chats and messaging. Hence, the use of traditional e-mail accounts for the purpose of connecting with the personal community is slowing down drastically."
According to Vizisense.com (September 2010 data), the average time spent per visit on Facebook (17 minutes, with more than 50 per cent users returning on the same day) is more than the average time spent per visit (between 5-10 minutes) on major e-mail sites, such as Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Rediffmail.
"Also, the convenience of integrating all messaging under Facebook will definitely result in further time spent on Facebook and may reduce usage of e-mail sites further. Traditional e-mail sites will definitely find it tough to get new Web users - who are pretty much starting their online experience with social media - into their fold," Bhartiya adds.
Prasanth Mohanachandran, co-founder, AgencyDigi, believes that existing e-mail users may not easily shift to Facebook for all their messaging needs; though it is quite possible that the new crop of Web users might know only Facebook Messages.
"The fact that Facebook now allows you to keep a record of Facebook chat is something which could pull Gtalk users to it. The other feature of filtering messages according to the user's relationship with the sender will make sure you never miss an important message," he adds.
Sandeep Amar, head, marketing, audience, pre-sales, Indiatimes, agrees that Facebook's new messaging system can be the game changer in the messaging space. He points out, "Already, a lot of messaging is happening on Facebook, which has shifted from e-mail. And with the introduction of a new messaging system, which offers a mailbox, chat history, and "one on one" conversations well managed, most "personal and friendly communications/conversations" can now move to Facebook."
He adds, "The e-mail inventory is the core of Yahoo! monetization, which is already feeling the heat from Gmail, but this Facebook e-mail service can hurt both of them in all major markets."
Raj Menon, chief operating officer, Contests2win, has a different opinion. He thinks that Facebook Messages will not affect existing e-mail systems in the short term. "In spite of all the hype, Gmail is a distant third with 179 million users; Yahoo! Mail is second at 270 million; and Hotmail is the undisputed leading e-mail site with 360 million users, worldwide, according to comScore October 2010 data. This proves that habits are difficult to change," Menon points out.
Mohanachandran raises a few concerns about the new Facebook Messages. He believes that Facebook is still too protectionist about the consumers' data while Google - by destroying all walled gardens - scores over Facebook. He elaborates, "All major e-mail systems, including Google mail, allow its users to control the content - contacts and conversations - posted by them on their respective e-mail sites and permits them to export it to other Web platforms; while Facebook does not allow this."