It’s not email. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said as much at last week’s introduction of Facebook Messages. He called the new service “a modern messaging system,” and half-jokingly said the next generation of users would gradually shift away from email. But as I detail over at GigaOM Pro, what Facebook is really trying to establish with its unified communications hub is presence management (subscription required). That’s why Facebook Messages feels at least as much like IM as it does email.
Facebook Messages focuses on intimacy and immediacy at the expense of formality, flexibility and history. This approach isn’t just aimed at consumer rather than professional usage. It de-emphasizes important consumer communications like billing, newsletters, one-to-many emailing, and forwarding. In other words, it’s more important in the long run for Facebook to be its users’ launchpad for personal communications than it is for the feature to be the management tool for all communications.
The Real Objective: Presence Management
By presence management, I mean the tools and platforms a person uses to announce his availability to other people (and, potentially, to bots and services). 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. 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.
How Should Competitors React?
Email’s not going away, for many reasons. Even teenagers want their online shopping receipts, and likely won’t route newsletters to their Friends inbox.
Microsoft appreciates the difference between corporate and consumer email, and has integrated IM with both. It should continue to build collaboration into Outlook, bridges between Outlook and Hotmail, and make sure its Messenger presence infrastructure interoperates with Facebook’s.
Gmail is an extensible apps platform, and a Gmail address is a hub domain for non-communications apps. Google’s aggressiveness in voice communications might give it an advantage over Facebook in mobile presence management.
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