Launched amid a big media hype, touted as the future of communication and a possible “Gmail killer”, the New Facebook Messages finally made it’s way to my account last week. So let’s see what it has to offer!
The setup is quick and uncomplicated:
- First activate your new email address. It automatically matches your vanity URL if you selected one and don’t get a chance to change it.
- Then turn on text messaging. Here’s where I hit a problem: it seems Facebook doesn’t know my country is on the map, even though Romania has more than 2.5 Mio. users now, about 30 times more than Rwanda! So no text messaging for me now. Will I be notified again when it’s available? Hmm, no word on that either!
- And that’s it! You’re now ready to use it.
Personally, I don’t see that much of a difference from the old system. The interface is cleaner, they added the SMS integration (which I can’t use) and a nice ‘Quick Reply’ mode that effectively switches from mail to chat: enable it and you will send a message every time you hit ‘Enter’, just like in an IM client. I haven’t tried it yet, but I can imagine it’s more pleasant to use than Facebook’s chat client.
For a “killer”, it does share some concepts with Gmail, like threaded conversations, archiving and search. It also started to store chats along with ‘mail’ in the common interface, just like Google Talk. Unfortunately, in the quest for simplicity, I think Facebook has gone a little too far. You probably can live without formatting options – I seldom use them in email – but the lack of organization is just terrible. It’s one thing to have conversations grouped by subject like in Gmail and another altogether to drop the subject completely and just pile together any form of communication with a certain person. I happen to have some older examples already: messages about work from back in the summer followed abruptly by Christmas wishes and, guess what? They just don’t mix! I can’t imagine how Facebook Messages would handle the complex discussions I have with some friends; we sometimes email each other about two-three different subjects during a single day. Gmail conveniently keeps these conversations separate; Facebook would shove them in one linear thread, where it would be hard to understand who answered what when.
Another annoyance for me: the lack of folders/labels. The separation between ‘Messages’ from friends and ‘Other’ is clever, but can only go so far. The first time I used the new system I accidentally archived a message. I spent minutes wondering “Where did it go now?” Only after I discovered the search box I noticed this is the only way to access ‘Archived’ and ‘Sent’. This is ‘Inbox Zero’ taken to the extreme.
So Facebook Messages is definitely not email. It’s not really chat either; maybe a stripped down combination with little practical use. I can imagine using it for short talks with distant connections; but if I know their email – even taken from their Facebook account – why not just email them instead? People complained Google Wave was too complicated and feature-laden; I find Facebook Messages overly simplistic and unable to scale into a full-fledged communication system that could compete with existing solutions. Even if some users have a hard time finding the option, Gmail at least allows you to delete individual messages from a thread! So will the New Messages change everything? Not for me!