Facebook: The Message is the medium

Facebook Messages is trying to change how we communicate, for better or worse (and probably both).

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I’ve been resisting writing about Facebook Messages, the new universal text-chat-email-whatever inbox Facebook unveiled this week. I wanted to get my hands on it and take it for a test drive before making pronouncements about its value or viability. A quaint concept in this era of blog first and ask questions later, I know. But I put in my polite requests for a test account to Facebook PR and got bupkis in return. I went to the Facebook Messages page and requested an invitation; I got a note back saying “You will receive an invitation soon.” So now I’m left waiting to find out how Facebook defines “soon.”

(One thing that drives me nuts about Facebook is how they announce products long before they’re available, then distribute them in seemingly random dribs and drabs to different groups of users over several weeks. I find that irritating. Maybe it’s just my inescapably cranky nature.)

[ See also: How to avoid being drunk and disorderly on Facebook ]

So: Facebook Messages. The big news here is that Facebook is giving all of its users an @facebook.com email address, only it’s not really an email address (as they keep insisting), because a) it works for SMS and chat as well as email messages, and 2) there aren’t the usual To:, cc:, or subject fields you have with email, which Facebook apparently sees as barriers to conversation. So a conversation can start on email, migrate to chat, continue on SMS, go back to email, and it’s all in your “social inbox,” neatly threaded and organized by the person you’re communicating with.

Another way to put this: Facebook wants everyone to communicate the way teenagers do now – a seemingly endless stream of telegraphic, almost hieroglyphic messages, complete with an ever-shifting series of ridiculous acronyms. (Cue Mr. Cranky again.)

The other big concept behind Messages is prioritization; as with Gmail, you have two inboxes -- one containing messages from people in your friends posse, the other from the rest of humanity, with the friends’ messages getting top billing. The alleged benefit here: All the email you’d want to read with none of the nasty spam.

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