Facebook updates messages layout to look and function more like email

Facebook today announced a new design and features for its messages product on the web. The two-paned layout and addition of keyboard commands makes the update similar to some email clients.

When users access messages from Facebook.com, they will see one column with recent messages and another column with an individual conversation. This should allow for faster browsing, similar to how users navigate messages in the Facebook for iPad app. Users can also search by a sender’s name or keyword at any point. In the previous layout, users could only search for names and keywords from the main inbox. When they opened a message, they could then search within that conversation.

Facebook says there will be a number of keyboard commands to make it easier to navigate messages and take other actions. Users will continue to be able to add multiple files, photos and emoticons to their messages. The “Other” folder for messages from non-friends also remains. Facebook says new product is available to a small percentage of users today and will roll out to everyone over the next few weeks.

Ads and bookmarks are not visible in the image provided by Facebook below, but a spokesperson tells us that is because the image is just a mock-up.

Although the company introduced Facebook.com email addresses in 2010, Facebook messages weren’t the Gmail-killer some in the industry were expecting. Much of what Facebook launched that year was aimed at making Facebook messages feel less like email at all. It created a single inbox for email, messages, sms and chat interactions. Users’ entire conversation history is included with every message, and subject lines were removed.

Those features are still in tact with the redesign, but it is interesting to see the social network move to a more traditional email layout and introduce keyboard shortcuts, which email power users tend to favor.

Earlier this year, Facebook made a change to users’ settings that hid all third-party email addresses from Timeline, displaying Facebook.com addresses instead. Many saw this as a way to promote its own messaging product over other services like Gmail.