As expected, Facebook's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has unveiled an improved communications system for the social networking site that he says may supersede email.
The Messages system on the site will be upgraded over the coming months to combine email, IM and text messaging in a single chat function. Users will get an @facebook.com email address and can filter their messages down to groups of friends.
"This is not an e-mail killer," Zuckerberg said.
He said that email as it exists now takes no account of how important each mail is to the reader and the Friend function of Facebook can be used as a filter. All the messages on whatever format can be stored in a continuous stream for future use.
The new inbox would have three sections: immediate messages from Facebook friends, an 'other' inbox for useful but non-friend contact and a spam folder. Messages are direct, and can't be cced or bcced. Facebook will provide an unspecified amount of cloud storage.
"I'm intensely jealous of the next generation who will have something like Facebook for their whole lives," said Facebook engineer Joel Seligstein.
"They will have the conversational history with the people in their lives all the way back to the beginning: From "hey nice to meet you" to "do you want to get coffee sometime" to "our kids have soccer practice at 6 pm tonight." That's a really cool idea."
Zuckerberg said that it was far from certain that email as it is now will be a lasting standard in the current format, and a simplified system could work better - particularly for younger generations whop send far more text messages than emails.
The work on the new software had been going on for around 15 months Zuckerberg said. Facebook recently hired the former head of Google's defunct communications suite Wave Lars Rasmussen to work on its platform.
While he was insistent that this upgrade was not email, the news will be worrying for existing email providers. Google's Gmail is the fastest growing web email service but Yahoo and Microsoft still have massive, if shrinking, market shares.
After Facebook sent out invitations for the announcement AOL announced updates to its email service on Sunday. Dubbed 'Project Phoenix,' the new services include email account aggregation, threaded message display and the ability to update social network accounts.
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