Facebook Social Inbox: Always-On Messaging With People You Care About

If there's anything to take away from today's announcement from Facebook, it's that the company has not released a direct competitor to Gmail or any other messaging provider. Instead, Facebook's Social Inbox is a messaging platform for interacting with the people you care about.

If there’s anything to take away from today’s announcement from Facebook, it’s that the company has not released a direct competitor to Gmail or any other messaging provider. Instead, Facebook’s Social Inbox is a messaging platform for interacting with the people you care about.

What Facebook’s Social Inbox Is Not

While I’d like to highlight all of the features of Facebook’s Social Inbox, I think it’s important to first highlight what the new product is not. Here are a few things that Facebook’s Social Inbox is not:

  • A productivity tool – Facebook’s social inbox will not make you any more productive. You’ll have to go to Facebook.com to access your various inboxes (Messages, and other) or alternatively receive the messages via SMS or the Facebook mobile app on the iPhone (and other devices). If you have business contacts attempting to reach out to you, they should probably still use your business email address. Want to add an auto-reply to those business contacts who reach out to you? Unfortunately you can’t. There are a lot of productivity features lacking from this, however the aim is not to make you more productive.
  • Not an email replacement – Unfortunately Facebook is not going to get you out of your inbox. Sorry to all those professionals who were hoping for for an incredible solution to help get you out of the inbox. While you can receive messages while on the go via the Facebook messaging system, you still have to live with an email inbox and a separate Facebook messaging system.
  • A Gmail killer – I think the last item highlighted this. This won’t kill Gmail: enough said.
  • A formal communication channel – Facebook has dropped email subjects, killed off signatures (for the most part), and has simplified all messages to a single thread. You can now view all the messages that you ever exchanged with a single person in one thread. This helps having an inbox with thousands of messages. Conversely, this is a bit more complex when you are messaging with people who are not on Facebook (people using work emails, etc).

What Social Inbox Is

Now that we’ve gotten those items out the way, let’s take a look at some of the features that are included with

  • A platform-independent messaging solution – No matter where you are, Facebook wants you to be able to communicate with the people you care about. As such, the company is offering a solution which integrates SMS, IM, Email, and Facebook messages into a single system.
  • A way to communicate with friends – You can now communicate with your friends no matter where you are and in a simple way. Send a message to your friend’s Facebook account or email them a message to their Facebook email address and they’ll be sent the message wherever they are.
  • Always on – Facebook’s new messaging service is intended for communicating with those people who you always want to be accessible to. If you don’t want to be accessible to people, don’t add them as a Facebook friend! Alternatively, you can configure people who you don’t want to have in your inbox. Right now you have 3 options when selecting who can message you: Everyone, Friends of Friends, and Friends Only. I’d assume that Facebook will make this even more granular in the future.
  • Seamless communication – The primary idea behind Facebook’s messaging service is that you’ll be able to communicate whichever way you prefer with the people you care about. If I step away from my computer, I shouldn’t have to type “BRB” in chat. Instead, that response should automatically be text messaged to me.
  • A way to remove noise – Tired of getting messages with financial statements, co-workers asking you for a task, and then messages you care about? This is a way to cut out the noise and get messages from the people you care about.

General Thoughts

The hype surrounding today’s announcement could potentially result in a let down for many users. For those who are let down, it would only be because the new messaging system doesn’t cure the noise problem that already exists. That point is highlighted in one of the first things I say Facebook is not: a productivity tool. From that standpoint it’s somewhat frustrating that Facebook would introduce something which doesn’t solve a problem for “power users”. If you have thousands of friends there’s a good chance that you are going to hate this system because the people that you kind of know, yet aren’t good friends with, can still contact you directly when you are on the go.

For those users who have various types of connections on Facebook (friends, family, and loose connections) there’s a very good chance that you could wind up annoyed by this service. Personally, I find trying to manage messages from 100 sources to be extremely challenging. It the same reason that I’ve consolidated the number of monitors I have down to one: I can’t multi-task effectively and I’d much prefer that all my messages are in a single inbox. Fortunately, Facebook’s social inbox at least solves that problem, enabling you to receive messages via email.

This new messaging service will most definitely be valuable for those who always want to be connected. However if you are a power user of Facebook and have thousands of friends, some of which you’ve never met, you’ve inherently let those individuals into your personal circle. The result is that you need to either delete your non-friends, live with letting anybody into your personal circle, or go use another service. As far as I’m concerned though, the title sums it up: Facebook’s social inbox is for communicating with the people you care about.