SAN FRANCISCO -- Facebook, closing in on signing up its 600 millionth user, is already the No. 1 social networking service in the world.
Now it wants to become the largest and most important real-time messenger by combining the world's most-often-used digital media: SMS texting, e-mail, chat and regular Facebook messages.
Facebook Messages, which the company launched in invitation-only mode Nov. 15, also enables people to communicate with their friends using any connected device they want.
The bottom line is this: A person using Facebook Messages can send one message on any device, using any of the four media noted above, to anyone else using the service who, likewise, can use any media and device.
It's a blurring -- and a clarification -- of digital communications as we know it.
Key problems Messages aims to solve
The key problem that Facebook Messages delves to solve is this: With so many conversations being held on different messaging platforms -- including IMAP e-mail, Web e-mail, SMS texting, chat and Facebook itself -- most personal communication becomes repeated and/or disconnected; therefore the time spent creating the content isn't used in an efficient manner.
Facebook Messages aims to connect most of those dots at this time (except IMAP e-mail, which is still on the product roadmap). The irony here is that with people in the world now more connected than any time in history, their individual conversations do not intersect, because they are all created in differing networks and stored on different servers.
"If I had a hope about how this will change the way people communicate, it would be that we would feel a lot more like we were in continuous conversation with those that we care about, instead of this fragmented set of messages that don't live in the same place and don't relate to one another," Facebook Chief Engineer Andrew Bosworth said.
Bosworth and Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg addressed a standing-room-only audience of reporters and analysts at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco.
Free @FB.com messaging address
Upon receiving an invitation by Facebook messages, current Facebook users can register for a free @FB.com address on Messages and start using the service. The new Messages service has no subject lines, no carbon copies and no blind carbon copies, so it is unlike a regular e-mail service.
Zuckerberg said that Facebook bought FB.com from The American Farm Bureau in order to use it for Messages.
"The farm bureau has agreed to give us FB.com, and we in return have agreed to not sell Farm subsidies," Zuckerberg joked, adding that Facebook employees are using the domain internally now and eventually will have their own FB.com e-mail addresses.
Zuckerberg described Messages as being modeled more closely to chat in order to make messaging a conversation that transcends media and devices.
"These are the three things that we think create the modern messaging system," Zuckerberg said. "Seamless integration across the the different ways people communicate; a single-conversation history, so you can have all your context with friends all in one place, very simple to draft with and communicate through; and a social inbox for filtering exactly the messages you want to see."