Facebook Messages Won't Replace Traditional E-Mail, Poll Says

Facebook Messages isn't likely to replace users' e-mail accounts, according to a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal. Still, analysts believe it will have an impact.

More than 62 percent of over 3,680 participants in a recent online poll said they wouldn't use Facebook Messages as their primary e-mail service.

Some 17 percent of respondents in the poll, conducted by the Wall Street Journal, said they would use Messages as their main e-mail, while 20 percent said they weren't sure.

Facebook Messages launched Nov. 15 to funnel e-mail, instant messaging and SMS text messages to one @facebook.com e-mail alias so that users can manage their communications through a single inbox.

The model, as envisioned by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, eschews e-mail's traditional address entry, subject lines, carbon copies and blind carbon copies for a simpler, faster messaging model.

Some view the service as a threat to Google's Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Microsoft Live Hotmail, and perhaps even as a replacement for Microsoft Outlook or IBM Lotus Notes in some cases of business use.

While the poll-in which one reader commented, "Personally, I don't have a FB account ... kinda creeps me out. Gmail works for me"-threw cold water on that flame of thought, analysts are less ready to dismiss Facebook's growing clout.

Messages won't do much harm to existing service in the near term, but that could well change, Gartner analyst Matt Cain told eWEEK.

"It will have little impact at first on the public portal e-mail vendors because it is a barebones e-mail service. But if Facebook makes it the equivalent of these other services, it will have a significant deleterious impact on competing e-mail services," Cain told eWEEK.

Industry analyst David Card went further in a post on GigaOm Nov. 22.

Card explained that Messages is really intended as a "presence management" tool to help users announce their availability to other users.

"A powerful, unified presence manager would also enable the user to express how he'd like to communicate, and to manipulate that 'how' and 'when' availability to different types of contacts," Card wrote.

"If Facebook establishes Messages as a user's primary tool to manage presence across multiple communications vehicles, it would be an incredibly sticky app, with huge customer lock-in potential."

Still, it's always hard to unseat the incumbents, especially if you're asking people to suddenly migrate from an e-mail system they've been using for five to 10 years. And it's not like Messages is introducing presence to the industry.

IBM Lotus Sametime has done this sort of presence management for years to great success, as has Microsoft in both Outlook and Hotmail with Windows Live Messenger.

Apart from text and video chat with presence, Gmail offers free phone calling capability, which no other major e-mail provider is doing yet.

Facebook Messages, which has yet to roll out to all of Facebook's 500 million-plus users, has a ways to go before it can claim being a real player, let alone a challenger.