Facebook, with more than 500 million users communicating with each other daily, is looking to reinvent communications - and not just email.
The company today is introducing a three-pronged system that strives to not necessarily change the way we communicate but to make it more efficient, more personal and definitely simpler. And, of course, Facebook wants to make it seamless across the platforms and devices we're already using.
At a press event in San Francisco this morning, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stressed that this is not "Facebook email," which was the general belief in the guessing game that surrounded this event. Yes, everyone will soon have the option of securing an @facebook.com email address if they so choose - but it's more than that. He said:
We're using a mechansism that's much simpler, like SMS or IM. We spent a lot of time building a handful of products that fit what we think of as a modern day messaging system.
At the heart of it all is the "social inbox," a place where messages - again,not just email - are housed and filtered. Because Facebook already knows who your "friends" are, it can filter messages that it believes to be important to you. Everything else - not necessarily junk but maybe a newsletter or a bank statement or something from a family member who's not on Facebook - goes into an "other" folder.
And if one of those messages from a friend would be better for the "other" folder or a message from someone who landed in "other" should be in the social inbox, the user can move them back and forth, adjusting how those emails are handled in the future.
In terms of the seamless integration that Zuckerberg and team talked about, the idea is that users should be able to have an IM appear as an SMS or an SMS appear as an email, giving people a way to use the communication tool they prefer without worrying about how the recipient will see it or respond to it.
That can be pretty powerful.
The company said the rollout to users will be a slow one - over the next couple of months - and initially will be spread via invitations. The idea is to let people get used to it and offer some feedback to Facebook about it.
Overall, I like what Facebook is doing here. For some time now, I've been squawking about how cumbersome and inefficient email continues to be - despite some of the breakthroughs that companies like Yahoo and Google have been pitching lately, such as Gmail's Priority Inbox.
The jury will be out for a bit on whether Facebook's effort is a winning solution or whether people will actually start using it. Zuckerberg stressed that no one at Facebook is expecting users to dump their Gmail or Yahoo mail accounts any time soon.
But the idea that some users, including the younger users who already prefer SMS and Facebook over traditional email systems, will shift the winds for future generations is something that makes me hopeful - hopeful that the clunky e-mail systems of today will someday be history.