[tweetmeme] A few days ago I got an early invite to try Facebook’s next big upgrade – the new inbox. Now that I’ve had a chance to test it for a few days, I thought I’d share some screenshots of what it looks like and a some first impressions of the features that a lot of you will be getting access to in the coming weeks when Facebook decides to roll this out to everyone.
The look and feel of the new inbox is pretty slick, and it’s definitely streamlined for mobile, which is a a smart move on Facebook’s part. If you’ve been following the “Facebook Phone” rumors this year, you’ll know that despite reports that Facebook is developing a branded phone of its own in conjunction with HTC, the company has repeatedly denied involvement with HTC or such a project. Still, spend 5 minutes with the new inbox and you’ll see how committed Facebook is to being a one-stop-shop on your smart phone. So what’s new?
For starters, you’ll get your own “[you]@facebook.com” email address that allows anyone to send you an email straight to your Facebook inbox, complete with attachments and pictures. Read between the lines, Facebook wants to be your start page and command center and going after your email inbox is a power play. I’m not entirely sure how it’ll be received by most email lovers, though. I’m sure there will be a segment of people and businesses that will clamor to grab their own addy, but it felt a little strange for me. Email is still the main way I keep in touch publicly and I’d personally feel a little strange giving out my @facebook.com addy to anyone. It’s certainly not going to replace my primary email address any time soon. If most people are like me, Facebook is going to have some big adoption hurdles to clear before @facebook.com becomes a culturally accepted, mainstream thing. Still, I can see how it might be a hugely attractive option for younger generations who are using Facebook more than email. The fact that this gives you the ability to write email directly to people outside of Facebook (thus sharing your addy automatically) could be a boon for Facebook. It actually makes me wonder whether they’ll add a “from Facebook.com, get your own free email here” tag signature to every email you send the way that Hotmail did years ago that made the service explode virally. We’ll see.
The new addy’s not all though, during the setup process you’ll also be prompted to link your mobile number to your inbox. This is something that no other service has done that I think is pretty significant. The new system allows you to “also send as text”, which means that as long as you’re sending the message to someone’s @facebook.com address (i.e. their Facebook account), they’ll be getting pinged outside Facebook in a way that at either keeps Facebook top-of-mind or serves to brings them back into the application on their phone. A subtle move by Facebook that, multiplied over millions of text pings, trains us to come back to the inbox and connect with our Facebook friends outside of our regular routines, especially when a text is designed to “make sure they read the message now”. Even the best of us are impatient and self important from time to time, which will work in Facebook’s favor.
The interface is pretty simple right now, and that’s probably a good move for the first round. It’s everything people wanted years ago when we complained how plain and rudimentary Facebook’s messaging system was, but don’t let the simplicity fool you, there’s good design thinking on the back-end. This inbox is WAY better for mobile than standard email boxes because of the ways that it’s organized. First, every email, a synchronous chat or message gets put into one conversation stream in chronological order, so you always go to the most recent message, regardless of where it came from. Second, full conversation history streams are organized by friend (of which we all have very few that we communicate with regularly), which makes your inbox quickly scannable. A great design for mobile. Third, Facebook seems to have taken a good stab at nailing the clutter problem – they’ve already created a sub inbox called “other” where messages from business pages and spam gets auto-filtered to. That’s not a great thing for businesses on Facebook, but it definitely makes the inbox more usable which helps Facebook clear the adoption hurdle.
All-in-all, I’m luke-warm about the new inbox, but I think it’s a necessary direction for Facebook and the thinking behind the design of the first implementation is solid and intelligently geared towards mobile. Below are some screenshots of what you’ll all be seeing very soon. To find out if you’re eligible for the new features you can go to http://www.facebook.com/about/messages