Facebook revamps messaging, takes aim at email

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook unveiled a new messaging platform Monday that takes aim at one of the Internet's first applications, email.

Although blogs had been speculating that Facebook would announce an email service to rival Google Inc.'s Gmail and others, Facebook said email was just one component of its plans.

Declaring email past its prime in the age of texts and instant messages, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company doesn't believe email is going to be a modern messaging system. The first Internet email system arrived in the early 1970s.

"If we do a good job, some people will say this is the way that the future will work," Zuckerberg said.

Users will be able to get a facebook.com address to go along with their account.

But Zuckerberg dismissed notions that "Project Titan," as its service was called internally, is the "Gmail killer" it's been dubbed as in the press. But he also said that just as high school students are forgoing email in favour of shorter, more immediate chats, more people down the line will send IMs and chats because it's simpler, "more fun" and more valuable to use.

But he did concede that Gmail is a "great product" and "email is still important to a lot of people."

Though email is still a primary form of communication for older adults, recent studies suggest this is not the case for young people. Text messaging has surpassed face-to-face contact, email, phone calls and instant messaging as the primary form of communication for U.S. teens, according to a 2009 survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

E-mail use was the lowest -- only 11 per cent of teens said they use it every day to interact with friends, compared with 54 per cent who said they text daily and 30 per cent who said they use landline phones.

The popular social network unveiled its plans in San Francisco on Monday, a day before Zuckerberg speaks at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

Underscoring the enormity of the project, Facebook's director of engineering, Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, said 15 Facebook engineers worked on the project for 15 months.

A spokeswoman says the new Facebook messaging will not be immediately available to Canadian users.

Zuckerberg says it's being phased in over the next several months.

In a blog post, Facebook engineer Joel Seligstein wrote that the new messaging platform is about prioritizing relationships.

"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," he wrote.

It's also a simplified and streamlined version of messaging, Seligstein said.

"There are no subject lines, no cc:, no bcc:, and you can send a message by hitting the Enter key. We modelled it more closely to chat and reduced the number of things you need to do to send a message. We wanted to make this more like a conversation."