Thursday, November 18, 2010

Facebook Messaging

In case you missed it, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook Messaging this week. It sounds cool. But I'm not wasting my time with petty jealousy. (And here's why you should beware.) I'll explain why by starting with plain vanilla email.

Why Gmail is better than other email systems:

  • It's web-based, allowing me to check my email on other people's computers. Its web interface is attractive and easy to use, so much so that many users don't bother with a desktop client even on their own computers.

  • It was the first to implement conversations, making email cleaner and more organized. Supposedly, other email clients (like Outlook) can thread conversations in a similar fashion, but it's clumsy. Go back to 2004 and tell me that Gmail's conversations aren't fabulous.

  • Gmail continued to innovate email by implementing labels (an alternative to folders, so that messages can have more than one label), Gmail labs, and integrating attachments to create a seamless user experience.

  • Google contacts create themselves. I've probably typed in all of three email addresses in the last 6 years. (It would be even better if users could maintain their own profiles, and thereby automatically update their entries in my contacts list. I anticipate this function within the year.)

  • Gmail connects to other Google tools, like Calendar (though the invite function is sorely underused, and the "add this event" from Gmail to Calendar is far from perfect) and Documents (which would be more useful if the people I work with used Google).

Why I'm reluctant to convert:

Don't be ridiculous, I'm not going to suddenly re-join Facebook and use Facebook messaging as my primary means of communication. I hate Facebook too much for that. However, the messaging system is enticing in principle.

The ability to combine text messages, phone calls, instant messages, and email conversations into a single thread is much like the idea I came up with way back when. The point is to create a one-stop shop, where each user gets to define her own way to communicate. I don't text, but I have friends who do, and for that reason, I maintain a Google Voice number that can accept texts. I have few friends who chat, so I've basically abandoned that mode, even though I am often instantly available. I would prefer a more streamlined approach. But I'm not going to let Mark Zuckerberg create the constraints of that system.

But what if another company came along with a similar approach? What if somebody figured out how to do exactly what I want (I'm not even sure what that is), and it wasn't Google? Ouch. Setting aside my Googlove for a moment, I'd probably try it out, to start. An ideal system wouldn't require me to change my email address; it would allow IMAP access. So it would mean using either a desktop app or a different web app to access email and other messages. Not a huge commitment.

Of course, it probably wouldn't integrate with all my other Google services as well as Gmail does...

And could I be sure that they'd continue to innovate, as Google has done? It probably won't take long for other communication systems to emerge, with slight differences, and Google might not be the first, but it could be the best.

Come on, Google Me already! Show Zuckerberg what you've got!

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