Facebook Messages - Zuckerberg's potentially game-changing innovation

Facebook Messages has been created to streamline different ways of communicating, bringing together text messaging, online chat, instant messenger and email. Long story short, Facebook will bring you messages sent in any of those mediums and put them all in one place for you. So, for example, if granny sends you a text but you're only ever on instant messenger, her text will handily pop up in your Facebook 'social inbox', along with all the messages being sent to you in other forms.

"I shouldn't have to worry about the technology. I should just have to worry about the person and the message. Everything else is just getting in the way," Facebook engineer Andrew 'Boz' Bosworth told BBC News.

To make Facebook Messages that bit more streamlined, it will be easy to browse full conversation history across different mediums too, and there will be tight user controls on which messages you want to receive. Taking spam filters to a whole new level of sophistication, Facebook Messages will let you, for example, set your social inbox to only receive messages from friends and friends of friends. Zuckerberg explained that while current spam filters are good at the moments, "the only real way to deal with spam and filtering [currently] is to build whitelists - but nobody wants to build whitelists." Facebook will now do it for you. Bingo.

To summarise Facebook Messages in Zuckerberg's words, it's about three things: seamless messaging, conversation history, and a social inbox.

But, wait! There's more. To coincide with Facebook Messages, Facebook will offer a @facebook.com email address to all its users (though any email address will work with Facebook Messages and the social inbox). This hotly-rumoured step, along with the other advances, has prompted plenty of speculation Facebook is trying to devise a 'Gmail killer' (Gmail being Google's email service with almost 195 million users). Zuckerberg denied that was the aim, conceding Gmail was 'a great product' and saying: "We don't expect anyone to wake up tomorrow and say 'I'm going to shut down my Yahoo Mail or Gmail account'. Maybe one day, six months, a year, two years out people will start to say this is how the future should work." He added: "E-mail is still really important to a lot of people."

It's obvious Zuckerberg is striving for a world in which internet users choose Facebook as their one-stop-shop for all digital communications, spanning phones and email and internet. This is obviously a really clever move. The way people communicate digitally seems to shift every couple of years (initially email, then instant messenger became the big thing, then Twitter). Ensuring everything can run smoothly through Facebook means users won't leave the site when the next big thing comes along, or to communicate across different platforms. So Facebook sucks up all those users of different services - meaning more hits, more advertising, a massive market share, more user analytics, and so on. All holy grails for a website like Facebook.

Facebook Messages is being rolled out over the next few months. And, if all goes perfectly to plan, Facebook could start having quite the monopoly on digital communications. I wouldn't then be surprised (though I'm entirely speculating here) if Zuckerberg was already thinking about buying up mobile networks sometime in the distant future or moving into smartphones. (Again, just to note, this is pure speculation - but that would be interesting, wouldn't it?)

Facebook isn't as nearly big as Google yet. But with innovations like this (and bearing in mind this was Facebook's most labour-intensive project yet but took a mere 15 developers), we wouldn't be surprised if the execs at Google are having a spot of emergency board meetings today.

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