Facebook will be rolling out in the coming weeks a new messaging system that will include email. For the first time, you won’t have to be an employee of the world’s largest social network to have an @facebook.com email address.
It’s based on an instant messaging paradigm. If you’re online in Facebook, all messages–email, chat and network missives–will appear in a chat window. If you’re on your phone, communications will be routed to the mobile.
The system has three folders–one for Facebook friends, another for less important messages and a third that’s essentially a junk mail folder.
Because users will have a Facebook email address, people from outside the network will be able to add messages to a user’s message stream.
In addition, users can downgrade the status of friends so their messages will appear in a lower priority folder.
Much of what the system does can be done–and done better–with a decent email program. Microsoft Outlook, for instance, allows you to use filters to direct incoming email to specific folders. Moreover, you aren’t limited to three folders, but to as many folders as you want or need to keep your mail organized. Defining and maintaining filters takes some sweat equity, but the payoff is the kind of granularity that can’t be achieved in the Facebook scheme and increases the effectiveness of email.
So where does spam killing enter the picture? By giving the highest priority to messages from Facebook friends, you can essentially create a “white list” of trusted people and screen out everything else, including all spam.
“The deal is that a Facebook identity (profile) pretty much ensures that there’s a real person behind it,” Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, wrote for the Huffington Post. “Spammers can create their own Facebook identities to try to work around this,” he acknowledged, “but that’s way more expensive than getting temporary email addresses, and that raises the cost of spamming people. So, if Facebook does this, it might provide the most personal, and spam-free email available, and it might be relatively easy to do so. That’s killer.”
Sindre Lia, writing for Infosync, also believes the social network’s scheme will be a spam killer.
“Facebook Messages is destined to become the place to go for a spam-free messaging experience,” he declared. “Surely, there are ways to achieve that already, but the Social Inbox makes it all simpler while also acting like a communications hub regardless of your communication form (SMS, chat, email or Facebook Messages) where your communications history is saved in the cloud,” he added.
While he concedes that Facebook’s scheme will require an attitude adjustment by those who wish to use it as an email substitute–there are no subject, CC or BCC lines, for example, or even contact lists–it does remove much of the hassle of existing email systems.
“Facebook describes this as an instant communication form that is free of worries, including worries about how to reach your friends,” he explained. “The friends you don’t already have on Facebook can be added to your Messages experience. Everything else, including spam, can be dug up through an ‘Other’ folder.”
In its announcement, Facebook put its vision this way:
“Relatively soon, we’ll probably all stop using arbitrary 10 digit numbers and bizarre sequences of characters to contact each other. We will just select friends by name and be able to share with them instantly. We aren’t there yet, but the changes today are a small first step.”
Not everyone agrees with Newmark and Lia, however.
“I think everybody needs to calm down a little,” chimes in Graham Cluley at the Naked Security blog. “Because it’s time for a reality check.”
He argues that Facebook email, far from ending spam, may increase another kind of spam. All kinds of malignant mischief has been on the rise in social networks. For instance, from April to December 2009 alone, spam reports on social networks increased more than 16 percent, phishing attacks by nine percent and malware assaults by more than 14 percent.
“So,” he continued, “just because you receive a message from a verified Facebook user who you have already connected with doesn’t mean that the email is kosher. All it means is that the Facebook account was used to send the spam.”
“More emphasis by Facebook on email could mean that the social network becomes even more attractive for spammers to abuse,” he added.
Moreover, Facebook’s venture into email may, rather than kill spam, may just increase it, asserted Fabrizio Capobianco, writing for The Guardian. He maintains that the best part of Facebook is that it prevented strangers from sending messages to you.
“Now strangers can send you messages in Facebook,” he wrote. “They can spam you on Facebook.”
“Facebook has decided to welcome spam in their system,” he added. “The one thing that made their system great, because it was not there.”