How Facebook Could Add Email to the Message Inbox

Facebook has invited members of the press to an event this coming Monday, and the invite email included the Facebook Messages looks icon. Given the existing rumors about a Facebook email service, and hints that some sources have given us, here’s a look at what might be launching on Monday.

Referred to as “Project Titan” among Facebook employees, the email revamp could address criticism about deficiencies in the existing Messages product such as lack of easy forwarding, mass “mark as read”, and attachment uploading. More significant would be giving users an email address to which email could be sent and read within the messages product, as well as POP and IMAP support for reading your Facebook inbox from other email clients.

A more full-fledged email product, especially one without POP or IMAP-support, would reduce the reliance of Facebook users on Gmail and other email services, bringing email’s extended time-on-site to Facebook. It would also further bind users to Facebook for the long term.

Facebook has made only limited forays into email to date. In October, it launched Groups, which aimed to be an elegant replacement for email lists by allowing users to set up Group email addresses to which emails could be sent. creating a persistent record of posts in the Groups feed. However, many users felt overwhelmed by the volume of email notifications they received since the product defaulted to email users about every action taken within the Group.

At the beginning of 2010, Facebook shut down the applications notifications system and as a replacement began allowing application developers to send users email. This change was in part designed to move spammy or low content messages off of Facebook and onto email, redirecting the ill will and labor associated with seeing these messages away from Facebook.

One question will be where notification and applications emails will go in the new Messages product. Some users might prefer to keep all Facebook-related communication within Facebook, which could be facilitated with the option to sort a single Messages inbox by types such as one-to-one from a friend, one-to-many from friends, Events, applications, and notifications.

Among other possibilities, a way to highlight one-to-one messages would be especially useful since they are more often important, timely, and require a response then other messages. Facebook created an Unread Messages sidebar module in an attempt to remind users to check their Messages, but more often the problem is that users read a one-to-one message, can’t respond immediately or don’t have a reply yet, but then forget to reply at all. This broken sequence has probably thwarted many potential business relationships and romances.

We’ll be at the event Monday with live coverage and analysis to let you know whether the update will be more of a user interface change or the addition of truly new functionality. If Facebook does distribute email addresses to users, maybe it will have something to export back to Google after all.

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