Facebook Email Move Challenges Google, Yahoo, Microsoft

New Universal Inbox Will Also Include Texts and Chat

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Facebook is giving its half billion users an email address -- @facebook.com -- and another reason not to leave the service for Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or Apple.

Today at the social network's latest announcement -- which are becoming an almost bi-weekly affair at this point -- Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a bold attempt to bring email into the network and unify the way people communicate online into one social inbox. Texting, emailing and chat can now be done as one, united by the big brother of your social graph.

Soon, all users will have the option of getting an email address from Facebook.
Soon, all users will have the option of getting an email address from Facebook.
"We are more connected today than at any time previous in history, but our communication is fragmented," said Facebook's director of engineering, Andrew Bosworth. "In this new system, we would feel a lot like we're more in constant conversation with those that we care about instead of fragmented messages."

Facebook has 500 million users and more than 350 million of them are already using the messaging system, mostly for one-to-one messages, said Mr. Zuckerberg, adding that users are sending 4 billion daily messages -- a number that includes chat and wall messages. That number is growing faster than any other on Facebook. Soon, all users will have the option of getting an email address from Facebook as well, allowing one to communicate outside Facebook from within.

But that's where the privacy issues start. If you interact with someone who is not on Facebook and they send you an email to your joesmith@facebook.com account, the email address will be automatically stored in Facebook. Reporters at the press conference had lots of questions about "off the record" chatting and messaging, but Mr. Zuckerberg did not provide a clear answer. He did say that executives considered something like "off the record," but it didn't seem to make sense for what they were doing for Facebook.

It was the storing of messages and creation of a record that was emphasized by Mr. Bosworth, who showed the audience a history of his message exchange with his girlfriend going back four years. The chain started with them meeting and ended with them moving in together, discussing their cats.

Mr. Zuckerberg said this new messaging system is not email, but rather just an option that includes email. Another feature is the "social inbox" -- a filtering system users can set up where only messages from their friends or friends of friends show up in a special message box. Another message box, which he kept referring to as "the other box," receives all other messages. "We can create a really great filter for you because we know who your friends are," said Mr. Zuckerberg.

But the feature expands Facebook's utility into the territory of other web mail providers such as Google's Gmail, Microsoft's Hotmail and Yahoo's Yahoo Mail; as a platform for web communications and services, it challenges others with a foothold in the space, including Apple.

"Facebook will certainly succeed at pulling away some time and attention from Gmail and other email clients," said Forrester analyst Augie Ray. "On the other hand, Facebook isn't interested in being a tool for your flood of bills, email newsletters or other communications -- it's about facilitating and enhancing your personal relationships."

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