Just after I posted on the Facebook messaging roll out, I had an interesting call from a reporter who had read the post. He wanted to know what was wrong with email? Why is it that some folks seem to want to kill it or at least totally change it? Why did Mark Zuckerberg want to make it so clear that his new messaging service wasn’t email?
First of all, I don’t think Mr. Zuckerberg wants email dead — apparently they do still use it at Facebook HQ. What he was attempting to do was point out that his new offering is different and not “just another email service”. Facebook has been working on this for a year now and after all that effort and what they consider to be substantial innovations, even if it was just another email service, they sure wouldn’t describe it that way — that’s marketing.
What we are really talking about here is what in the past has been referred to as “unified messaging” — bringing all your communications into one single “inbox” regardless of format. And yes, it’s been tried before with less than stellar results.
Mark did make some interesting points about email which are well worth mentioning:
Kids view it as a formal means of communication
We humans love to drag along certain practices and rules because it’s the way we’ve always done them. When email came into it’s own, we hauled along a lot of old rules and formalities simply because that’s what we established with traditional correspondence. The older generations viewed email as “electronic mail” and insisted on applying the formatics of snail mail to it in general. If you want to alienate youth from anything, make sure you use that kind of logic.
Email carries a lot of baggage with it because we didn’t think out of the mailbox for a change.
Email is message centric and not people/conversation-centric
A good point. Remember when Microsoft first made the leap into document centric-applications with Windows 95? No longer did you have to open the program then hunt for the right document — just click a Word doc and word opens. It appears Facebook is attempting to make the same kind of leap with messaging. Email in general would be better off if it intuitively sorted messages based on people and their conversations, even if those conversations are not linear.
This new messaging system may indeed make our communications much richer simply because (as demonstrated at the news conference) it will give us a kind of scrap book of conversations to look back on.
What I’d like to see in email
I think it all has to go further still. We need a desktop which thinks along the same lines as Mark Zuckerberg suggested, where messaging is messaging and it’s the conversation which counts more than anything else, including the platform. A desktop which learns from us and intuitively helps sort information in ways that is more relevant to the individual. All the myriad apps we now use to interact and process information need to go away or at least be seamless to the user. Sure email is sorted by date for most of us which provides a linear progression, but are most conversations really linear? Certainly the interactions making up the relationships which give those conversations any substance often are not.
Takeaway: I don’t want to have a conversation with an inbox anymore. I don’t want spend time thinking about anything other than the conversation. While Facebook’s new product may not be the cure for what ails email, it might be good medicine.