On November 15th, Facebook announced, in a touching blogpost, the launch of the new ‘Facebook Messages’. It began the blog by invoking the American family:
Imagine the kind of family you might see in a modern American sitcom: loving parents trying to maintain a family unit with a teenager engrossed in text messaging, a college-aged child who is always chatting online, and various wacky relatives who spend their days sending “funny” emails to the family.
(As an aside, it’s interesting to note a company full of geeks, headed by a notoriously unsocial CEO (as the movie paints him) to invoke the family, something a politician is more likely to do. Some good PR management going on here?)
Joe Seligstein (who signed the blog) goes on to say:
…but there is still a feeling that the technology can also act as a barrier between us. When I want to share with someone it should be as simple as deciding who I want to share with and what I want to say. It should feel more like a human conversation.
That is apparently the premise behind the new service, which aims to combine chat, messages, email and SMS into one platform. While we’ve always wanted a platform like this, I suppose the alarming thing is the that it has a Facebook brand to it. Perhaps it seems all the more foreboding given that rumours of a Facebook phone in the air.
Well, I am here to evaluate the idea, not describe it (for which you should read the Facebook blog here). it is supposed to be so cool that Seligstein says,
I’m intensely jealous of the next generation who will have something like Facebook for their whole lives.
Then he goes on to say,
It seems wrong that an email message from your best friend gets sandwiched between a bill and a bank statement. It’s not that those other messages aren’t important, but one of them is more meaningful.
Huh? Speaking from personal experience, while a mail from my best friends will normally have something inane in it (if it’s serious, they tend to call over the phone. Voice-to-voice Alexander Graham Bell messaging.), a mail with a bill it puts me in touch with fiscal reality.
Of course, since it is so-cooler-than-thou, Facebook Messages is only on an invite basis, and that too you have to cadge for invites. And the new world was supposed to be so flat! Since My ivite is still some way from coming, I’ll refer you to Mashable.com’s walkthrough of the new service (or privilege, come to think of it).
But since I’m a curmudgeon who hasn’t converted to the new Messiah yet, I’m going to use the rest of the space to look at current online reviews. The Register thinks it’s a safety risk. Facebook Messages opens you up not just to your ‘friends’, but also ‘friends of friends’. So if you have a ‘friend’ who has a thousand ‘friends’ (most of whom she or he will never meet in life), all of them can reach you. If you are a professional spammer, what a joy. And even better, if someone’s account is compromised (a polite word for ‘hacked’), it’s a field day for spammers.
Techtree thinks a lot of Facebook users aren’t going to sign up for its mail service (You can get an @facebook.com mail ID if you ask for one). Largely because of brand inertia, having to tell everyone in your mailing list that you are shifting. And Facebook Messages is causing consternation in people who are trying to get to grip with it, from the guy at ZDNet to the one at TechNewsWorld. Bloggers at the venerable Washington Post and Computer World are fretting over privacy issues.
PC World has a happy take. It thinks Facebook Messages will bring ‘authenticity’ to internet communications, since everyone has to use their name directly, rather than a username or nickname. Spoilsport that I am, I have two objections.
a) One of the great benefits of the internet was that it could give you anonymity and an escape from your mundane existence, by letting you assume a weird name that suited your fantasy.
b) What makes a name displayed on Facebook authentic? If you’re an ordinary person, you will likely use your own name. But I’m the goat’s beard if you think Osama bin Laden is going to have a Facebook account under the name of, well, Osama bin Laden.
But nevertheless, they have something of a point, would you make an e-bay transaction with someone called Slinky?
Now my last comments. Facebook Messages is supposed to be the future, the technology that went beyond email. Well, wasn’t that what Google Wave was supposed to be? And Google Buzz after that? And pessimistic kvetch that I am, how long before people adapt their lives around Facebook Messages, just as they have adapted them around Facebook?