Is Facebook's communications platform worth the hype?

Facebook aims to revolutionize communication across email, SMS, and chat - do we need this? Will it actually work well?

After watching the Facebook messaging event, I’m not sure what to think about this new concept of communications. There really isn’t anything I dislike, but there are part that make me shrug and ‘meh’ along a couple of ideas that I like.

Here’s what I like:

  • Permanent (or semi-permanent if you choose) message history.
  • Running conversation style – this has been emerging as a concept for a while in things like threaded email messages and smartphones that display texts like an ongoing chat. It’s generally a good concept when implemented well.
  • Consolidate message stream – probably the biggest feature is the ability to collect a variety of conversation types (email, Facebook messages, chat, and texts) into a single stream. If Facebook can pull this off really well, this could enable a really fluid style of communication. If they can’t, this messaging platform won’t take off.

All three of these things put together look like a great way of keeping in touch with people.

Here are the things that I’m not sold on:

  • Easy transition across mediums – this all sounds great if you rely solely on Facebook (and your new email address) for all communications, especially if you use a smartphone and the Facebook app. But what if you want/need to use an alternate email address or text messages (texts are cheaper than data on a lot of smartphone plans). I’m not sure Facebook has adequately addressed this.
  • Professional communication – I rarely use Facebook for professional communication (for me it’s for friends and family and maybe some longtime/former colleagues). So, this isn’t going to complement professional discourse in any way. It may even create awkward situations with professional contacts if they choose to communicate using Facebook as a result.
  • Integration with other services/features – Facebook has plans to incorporate IMAP and Jabber/XMPP messaging (such as Google Chat), but until they do (and depending on how well they manage it), there could be issues switching between modes of discussion and again between personal/professional interactions. It also remains to be seen how well this will work with other services like Twitter that afford their own public and private messaging systems.
  • Running conversation style – yes, I listed this as something I like, particularly for certain types of conversations, but there are times more traditional email threading may work better or make finding specific information easier, though a good search and/or tagging feature could streamline this.
  • The other inbox – Email and messages from outside Facebook (presumably from non-Facebook users like my father) are relegated to a separate inbox. As you message with them, they should transition to your primary inbox, but this means you’ll still need to check for extra messages. Similarly spam is supposed to be hidden from view completely, but exactly how Facebook plans to filter potential spam remains unclear.
  • Privacy – Perhaps the biggest question mark over this, as over all things Facebook does is privacy. The company isn’t known for making privacy and information security easy and that’s often a big drawback to using many of its features. This probably won’t require as much privacy fine tuning as features like Places, but it still presents an issue (especially if conversations will transition to less secure mediums like email and SMS).

Overall, I’m not sure how much I’ll actually use this as a communication medium. It certainly has some interesting concepts and could be cool for keeping up with friends, but I think it falls short of any real use beyond very casual communications.

What do you think? Are you ready to claim your @facebook address right away and dive? Or are you more reserved? How broadly do you think you’d use Facebook’s new communications model and who will you use it to talk to? Let us know in the comments.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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