Increasing EngagementBy Reuters | Print
Facebook will offer an all-in-one messaging service that will allow users to communicate with people outside the network, pitting it against Google's Gmail and Yahoo's internet mail.
Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray said the new messaging service will help Facebook in its quest for user-engagement.
"What this allows is Facebook to become more central to people's communications, and with that they have more (of people's) time, they have more page views, and with that they have the opportunity to serve more ads," Ray said.
More than 4 billion messages get sent everyday through Facebook, whose backers include Digital Sky Technologies, Microsoft, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing and venture capital firms Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Meritech Capital.
Its new product will automatically route messages from a person's most frequently-contacted acquaintances into a main inbox, with messages from other contacts pooled in a separate inbox.
It also does away with some traditional email customs, such as the "subject" line. Instead, all the messages between two people are threaded together into one long-running conversation.
Users will also be able to view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents as attachments to their messages, without having to download or pay for the software. Licensed users can create and send such documents as attachments.
Should all of Facebook's active users adopt the new service, the social network would begin to approach the number of users now on Microsoft Corp's (NASDAQ:MSFT) hotmail, the most popular Internet email service.
Google, which controls roughly two-thirds of the global search market, offers the third-most popular Web email service, behind second-placed Yahoo, according to Web analytics firm comScore.
Last week, Google began blocking Facebook from importing user contact data from its Gmail email service -- until Facebook reciprocates with its own trove of personal data.
In terms of potential privacy concerns, Zuckerberg stressed that the new service may actually be less intrusive than others'.
For instance, it would not automatically scan the contents of people's email to display ads based on similar keywords, as is done by many of today's popular Web-based email products like Gmail, he argued.
"Email is still really important to a lot of people. And we just think that this simpler kind of messaging is going to be how a lot more people shift a lot of their communications," Zuckerberg said. (Writing by Edwin Chan; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Richard Chang and Bernard Orr)