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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Of course, I could be completely, utterly, mind bendingly wrong here, because all I have to go on is what Facebook said on Monday (see invitation, lack of, above), plus the somewhat scant materials and the FAQ they’ve placed online.

The idea of getting all your messages in one place seems sound, and the notion of one unified conversation extending across all forms of communications media for weeks, months, or years sounds kind of cool.

The thing is, though, my conversations don’t work that way, and I’m not sure they should. I have conversations on SMS. I have them on Twitter. I have them on email. I have them on Skype. Occasionally I have them on Facebook, either via the comments to a post or Facebook’s internal email system. But I don’t have conversations that jump from SMS to Twitter to Skype to Facebook and back. They’re all self contained.

Take my wife (please). We are constantly chatting via Skype at various points during the day. Sometimes we text each others’ cells. We exchange email (though far less than we used to). We have used a variety of software products and Web sites to collaborate on projects, all of which ultimately drive me nuts. Sometimes we even speak to each other, when there’s simply no other recourse or it’s just too complicated to type. But about 75 percent of our interactions occur digitally in one form or another – almost none of them on Facebook.

In the new Messages scheme, all of these conversations would occur on Facebook. I’m not sure I see that happening. In part because the idea of having Facebook in control of all my messages makes me uneasy. It’s not merely that I don’t trust Facebook to keep my conversations private and secure (and I don’t); it’s also that I’m not convinced it’s competent enough to do that, given how often Facebook often doesn’t seem to know what it is doing until somebody else points it out (see “Facebook’s ID-gate privacy breach: Why it matters”).

It’s not like Facebook has proven itself impervious to phishing scams and malware attacks; rather the opposite. So it’s a bit like your teenage son wrapping the family station wagon around a pole and then demanding the keys to the Porsche.

I’m also naturally suspicious. Why does Facebook want all my conversations? What are they planning to do with them? Will they be displaying ads keyed to the content of my emails/chats/texts, as Gmail does? Or will this information be feeding into some kind of behavioral profile? (Cue Mr. Paranoid.)

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