Predicting people will call it "the way the future should work," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the social-networking company's latest initiative, a revamp of the website's "Messages" communication system, Monday in San Francisco.
"It's not e-mail," Zuckerberg said, dispelling rumors that Facebook would launch a new e-mail system to compete with such communications staples as Gmail. "We don't think that a modern messaging system is going to be email."
"People are going to have @facebook.com addresses, but it's not e-mail," he said.
Instead, the system is going to send messages at once over the whole range of technologies people use to communicate -- phone, e-mail, instant messaging and, of course, Facebook.
Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering for the Palo Alto company, said communicating via technology is too fragmented, illustrating the point by saying he needs to text message his high-school-aged cousin but e-mail his grandmother.
"I'm keeping this lookup table in my head of who I need to reach out to and in what medium. ... It seems like it should be simpler than that. It seems like technology should get out of the way. It should be as easy as sending a person a message. I should need only those two things: a person and a message," he said.
Currently, Facebook offers a messaging system by which users communicate with each other either in an e-mail-like format or an instant-messaging format. In addition, users can have their Facebook messages forwarded to their outside e-mail accounts.
About 350 million people send about 4 billion messages a day on Facebook, and that volume is growing, Zuckerberg said.
The new "Messages" program is based on three functions: the integration of technology (phone, e-mail, instant messaging, etc.); the ability to retain a conversation history; and the sorting of messages within a "social inbox."
Unlike e-mail, in which there is a subject line and all replies to that e-mail are joined together in a "thread," the Facebook Messages system will have just one thread per person.
"You have a conversation with a person -- one conversation, one history," Zuckerberg said.
The "social inbox" will segregate messages sent to a user based on the social importance of the sender, with communications separated into three categories: "messages," "other" and "junk."
"Because we know who your friends are ... we can do some really good filtering for you to make sure that you only see messages that you really care about," Zuckerberg said.
Facebook Messages, he predicted, will become the way of the future because it aligns with how the next generation of communicators like to have conversations. High school students, for example, prefer the immediacy of communicating via text message on their phones, where thoughts can be spelled out quickly and in bursts, rather than using more formal e-mail.
"This is not an e-mail killer," Zuckerberg said, predicting that e-mail will continue to be one way people communicate. But just as teens are shifting to "real-time, simpler communication, that's what we think is going to happen."
"More people will engage in this because it's simpler and easier and it helps people connect better and it's more accessible and more fun and valuable for them to use.
"Maybe one day -- six months, a year, a year and a half, two years out -- some people will say, 'This is the way the future should work,'" Zuckerberg said.
Facebook Messages will work with Jabber/XMPP (Windows Live Messenger and AOL Instant Messenger) but IMAP functionality is still in the development phase, Bosworth said.
Rollout of the system will take several months and will be tested first by people who've been invited to participate, Zuckerberg said.
Development of Facebook Messages took more than a year and involved the largest team Facebook's ever assembled for a product -- 15 engineers, Bosworth said.
View video of the announcement, along with a media Q&A session, at www.livestream.com/facebookinnovations/.