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How Facebook’s new messaging system will change the PR community’s use of email

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discusses Facebook's newly launched messaging system. Photo courtesy of Robert Scoble via Flickr

Seems hardly a few weeks go by without Facebook announcing an expansion into another realm of communications. Whether it’s location-based networking (Facebook Places), single sign-on across third-party mobile apps with a Facebook login, or today’s announcement, which could have a greater impact on communications professionals than either of the above: a new messaging system, known internally as Project Titan, which, among other enhancements, integrates email into Facebook’s existing messaging and chat features.

The new messaging system will be rolled out to select users today and be made available gradually to all Facebook users in the coming months. Most significantly, the new “Social Inbox” will filter incoming Facebook messages and emails sent to a “username@facebook.com” email address into three levels: Messages, other and spam. “Messages” include any in-network message or email sent from a Facebook friend. The idea is simple enough: to ensure the most relevant messages get read first. But especially with email sync/forward options coming soon, could the flip side be less visibility for email messages you send to someone with whom you’re not friends on Facebook?

 If the system catches on, users could see emails from anyone with whom they don’t share a Facebook connection buried in their inboxes. Which, if your email inbox looks like mine, could mean never getting to those messages.  

In some ways, the project chases Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature, launched in August. Rather than filtering based on whom you’re connected to, Gmail’s approach considers whose emails you open and reply to most frequently, and pushes emails from those people up in the queue. The prioritization is more focused on your behavior than which senders are members of your social graph.

Both Priority Inbox and the Social Inbox reflect a pair of trends that anyone who gets their message out via email should eye carefully: 1) email overload is not abating, even though 2) people now spend more time on social sites than reading and writing email, according to a 2009 Nielsen study [PDF]. To be fair, when I trot out this study, harried professionals are often quick to point out that they are still very focused on email. But a Gartner study released this month predicts that 20 percent of business communication will move out of email and internal systems and into social sites by 2014.

One big question is, will this new messaging system serve as an incentive to broaden our networks on Facebook, or to become more selective? It’s hard to imagine it will have no effect.

Despite the necessity of junk folders and spam filters, many people feel that email does a poor job of delivering relevant information that’s easy to search and organize. Still, previous attempts to revolutionize digital communication out of the realm of long, convoluted email threads and into social platforms, such as Google Wave, have fallen flat. Facebook already has more users than Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo Mail.What do you think? Will email evolve into just another feature on social sites?

More coverage of the Facebook announcement:

Mashable: Facebook Announces New Messaging System: “It’s Not E-mail”

 Inside Facebook: Facebook Announces Seamless Messaging Across Communication Mediums” 

TechCrunch: Live from the Facebook Event: We’ve Got Fmail!

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