SAN FRANCISCO-Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the seed for the new Facebook Messages service was planted two years ago after talking to a high-school student who proclaimed e-mail to be too slow for her tastes.
So Zuckerberg and his team last year embarked on the effort to build Messages, which aims to rethink e-mail by funneling SMS (Short Message Service) messages, direct messages, and e-mail messages and chat sessions through one access point.
The young CEO recalled the story in a keynote conversation at the Web 2.0 Summit here Nov. 16.
Facebook Messages eschews e-mail's traditional address entry, subject lines, carbon copies and blind carbon copies for a simpler, faster messaging model. It also breaks down the classic wall that exists between e-mail messages and instant messages.
With Messages, a single, one-to-one conversations thread is emphasized over 20 different conversations and threads associated with Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Windows Live Hotmail and even on-premises products such as Microsoft Outlook.
Facebook Messages is streamed that same way to users regardless of whether they are using a PC, laptop, tablet or mobile phone.
"I think messaging in the future is going to resemble that a lot more because it's a lot more natural," Zuckerberg said. "We didn't come at it from the perspective of 'Oh, let's add e-mail functionality.' We came at it from the perspective of -Let's take away everything that we can.' "
To help with this effort, Zuckerberg said he plucked three employees from real-time communications startup Zenbe.
This move was the latest in the company's steady talent acquisition march that started with Parakey and continued with FriendFeed, Divvyshot, Hot Potato, NextStop and Drop.io, among others.
Zuckerberg said Messages affords users other advantages over traditional e-mail: no spam.
Traditional e-mail has been rife with spam since its inception, and despite the rise of anti-spam companies, people use all sorts of tricks to dodge the filters.
Even innocuous spam, such as random e-mails and recommendations from services that consumers use, can get annoying.
With Messages, users are communicating with people they know, significantly dropping the percentage of unsolicited e-mail, Zuckerberg argued.
"E-mail can't differentiate between two real people sending you legitimate e-mails. It can't differentiate between which [person] you like more," Zuckerberg said. "You should have a list of people that you want to hear from. We could just do that so easily for people."
Messages will be popular among Facebook's 500 million users, but will it cause people to spend less time on Google Gmail, Yahoo Mail or Live Hotmail?
Come back and ask us again when and if Facebook adds calling capabilities from Facebook.com. Why would anyone leave the walled garden?
This could cause user engagement on Gmail and the other services to drop.