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Facebook has just wrapped up the press conference announcing its new e-mail product — billed as a “Gmail killer.” Mark Zuckerberg hit the stage right on time and began with some personal research he’s done about the use and disuse of e-mail. About 350 million people are actively using messaging on Facebook, he said, meaning not all of the social net’s roughly 500 million users are currently availing themselves of this feature.
In talking with some high school relatives of his girlfriend, Zuckerberg found that most don’t use e-mail — they rely on Facebook and SMS, he was told. The next generation of messaging must be seamless across devices, it needs to be immediate and it should be short, Zuckerberg said. Along with the change, a new iPhone app is launching. Still, the rollout of the messaging system is being described as “slow.”
This is not e-mail: E-mail is one-to-one, Zuckerberg said of the new messaging system Facebook is rolling out. While users will get a “@Facebook.com” handle, it’s not limited to that.
Social inbox: Facebook will filter messages so you only see the communications you want. Sounds like a regular spam filter, but Zuckerberg said that filters don’t recognize the degrees of unwanted messages. For one thing, some spam filters have you make lists of those you want and those you don’t. Somehow the social inbox will intuit most of this. Zuckerberg is handing over the rest of the explanation to Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering.
More like chat, less like e-mail: “We’ve modeled it more after chat,” Bosworth said. Users will have the option of using the “@facebook.com” address, but it won’t be required.
Folders and the social graph: The new e-mail system was built on open source technology. With the Social Inbox, you’ll be able to organize all e-mails — even those from your grandmother who still isn’t on Facebook — within it. For those Facebook friends who you might prefer to hear from less, you can move them to the “other” tier, which will allow you to elevate messages from those you are interested in hearing from.
Together, not separate: Under this system, you will have a single conversation history with a person, not separate “messages.”
Not an e-mail killer, exactly: Zuckerberg takes the stage again to wrap up and address recent press about the announcement. The system, which will be rolled out over the next few months, is designed to capture a trend towards text and instant messaging. “We don’t think people are going to shut down their Gmail or Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) mail accounts,” Zuckerberg. “We just expect, maybe in six months or a year, more people will IM and message through this system. If we do a good job with that, some people will say that these simpler messages work better and maybe [they] don’t need e-mail as much.”
Not a Gmail killer, but a Gigabox killer: Facing more questions about the rivalry with Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Zuckerberg said, “I think Gmail is a really good product. The codename for this new messaging product was ‘Type.’ The codename for the last messaging product was called ‘Gigabox’. Later on, I happened to see a story, I think it was on TechCrunch, about a new company was just called Gigabox. We didn’t know there was another company named that. Anyway, this isn’t a Gmail killer, it’s a Gigabox killer, because this will only kill the last messaging system we had.”
Ad space available: The messages will come with ads. But Zuckerberg sought to draw a distinction with other services that target ads based on what you do elsewhere on the web. Facebook’s messaging system, like the general method for ad targeting on the social net, is based on what a user makes public on their profile.