Some users are seeing a prompt when they visit their Facebook Messages inbox allowing them to upgrade to the New Messages product launched in closed beta in November. The product automatically filters non-essential communications into an Other folder, allowing the main inbox to show only important messages. It also routes sent messages to whichever device or interface Facebook deems is the most convenient for the recipient, whether that’s Chat, Messages, SMS, or email. While initially only available to press and an early tester-base, it appears all users will soon be able to upgrade to New Messages.
At the product’s launch event, CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that New Messages was built to facilitate modern communication which is simple, immediate, lightweight, and personal like SMS and instant messaging, opposed to more formal, asynchronous email. Though users get an @facebook.com email address, Facebook doesn’t expect users to shift things like payment receipts and newsletters there. Instead, the product reduces noise, eases cross-interface conversation, and creates a more comprehensive record of the communication users already perform. Users who don’t see the prompt to upgrade on their inbox can visit the New Messages about page to request an invitation. We expect a full rollout to occur in the next month or so, similar to how the profile redesign is now being pushed to all users.
The best part about New Messages is how it brings Chat into threaded, searchable conversation history. If someone sends you Message, but you’re online, you’ll see it as a Chat. If you send them back a Chat and they’ve already logged off, it will be routed to their New Messages inbox, and shown in the same thread as your previous Chat. This means you don’t have to worry about conversations breaking down because one person changed the interface through which they were communicating. Or if you accidentally close your last Facebook web interface window or head out the door, you’ll still be able to access those Chats from your phone in the form of Messages.
This system is similar to the interplay of Gchat and Gmail, and its adoption could pull users away from Google who use that company’s product for their reliability of delivery. The New Messages product also separates conversations by people rather than by interface, between which the lines are blurring as users increasingly use Chat, email, and Facebook Messages from their mobile device as well as the web. Other useful features of New Messages include forwarding and attachment support, and a one-click “Mark as Read/Unread” option.
The main problem with New Messages at present is the filtering of conversations. Event, Page, and Group updates are usually filtered properly into the Other inbox, leaving a high-signal, low-noise main inbox of one-to-one messages. However, Messages, including time-sensitive businesses communications, from people who aren’t your friend and don’t have mutual friends are filtered into the Other inbox as well. Without the red notification counter on your home page or gray counters on your Messages sidebar navigation link, it’s easy to forget that important Messages may be being filtered out.
For instance, I didn’t check my Other inbox for a few weeks and had multiple Messages from people who wanted to show me their soon-to-launch products. When Facebook sought to inform users of the five-day window to give feedback on proposed changes to its privacy terms via the Facebook Site Governance Page, that Message was also filtered out. Some users prefer to Message someone they’ve met before adding them as a friend, but these personal, social, one-to-one Messages might not reach their recipients until much later. Users can move a conversation between inboxes once it has started, but Facebook could address part of the problem by allowing users to opt to have the first Message from someone they aren’t connected to routed to their main inbox.
Overall, Messages will help most Facebook users. It anticipates the shift to using multiple devices and interfaces to conduct a single conversation. It also declutters the inbox by removing spammy and low-value Page and Event updates. Professionals who are frequently contacted by those they aren’t connected to will need to pay attention to their Other inbox. But for most, we advise upgrading or requesting an invitation to New Messages because it improves one of the core uses of Facebook — instant communication with friends.
[Note: it’s currently unclear when Facebook shows counters for the Other inbox. This feature is still undergoing rapid development.]