25 January 2011

So I got the New Facebook Messages. Now what?

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!Facebook New Messages

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.Facebook Messages Claim your email
  • 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! Facebook Messages turn on SMS
  • 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. Facebook Messages Quick reply mode

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 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.Facebook Messages Archived

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 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!

Update: The day after I wrote this article, I also got a chance to test messages in real-time with a friend whose account wasn't updated yet. She was using the regular chat, I was receiving them in the New Messages and replying from there with ‘Quick Reply’ on. As I suspected, she received a mail notification from Facebook every time I was hitting Enter. Needless to say, we quickly switched to another IM provider, in our case Google Talk. Facebook should really do something about this potential noise (borderline spam) problem; maybe only send notifications about received messages when the user is not logged in?


  1. Can you give invites to it? if yes can I have one? :)

  2. There are no invites, sort of.
    You can "invite friends to upgrade" from inside the New Messages, but that doesn't mean they will receive it immediately. They just get bumped up on the waiting list.
    Or you can visit the official page http://www.facebook.com/about/messages/ and request an invite from there.

  3. Hi!
    I'm trying to send a message to a list, but in can't in the new facebook mail, any idea?


  4. Hi!
    According to the Facebook Help Center it should be possible, but I can't seem to get it to work either with New Messages. The auto-complete doesn't return names of lists.

    Click the message icon at the top left of your home page to open a preview of your most recent messages, and select the "Send a New Message" link. Enter the name of a friend, friend list, or an email address you would like to message.

    Maybe their FAQ is out of date?

  5. I agree with gxg - it remains the case that with New Messages, you can't message a friends list. :-(

    With New Messages, list names do not appear when you start typing in the 'To' field.

    According to the Help Centre, you should be able to message a list with up to 20 friends in it.

    Unfortunately though, with New Messages, this documented functionality appears to have disappeared altogether.

    I hope that Facebook reintroduces this, or equivalent, functionality, otherwise it creates less of an incentive to spend time organising your friends into lists in the first place.
    I understand that Facebook may be concerned about over-messaging and people effectively receiving lots of Facebook spam. However, one of the reasons that people are probably not more selective when sending out group invitations, messages etc. are because Facebook makes it so hard to send out messages to segmented groups, so they end up just messaging ALL of their friends...