Social Networking

Facebook Messages’ Foggy Functionality

What can users expect from Facebook’s new Messages system, which will be able to deal with messages from and different types of communication media?

Will it really take in messages from different types of messaging systems — email, SMS, text, etc. — and output responses to those systems?

Bearing in mind Facebook’s previous problems with privacy, there are concerns similar wrinkles will again surface.

“A lot of the technical details remain unclear since the new Facebook messaging system hasn’t been publicly released yet,” cautioned Jia Wu, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Facebook will roll out the system in stages over the next few months, beginning with offering it to members (via invitation only) and soliciting a constant stream of user feedback.

“People have very high expectations for how personal messaging systems should work, so we want to make sure that we’re gathering a lot of feedback and getting things right,” Facebook spokesperson Meredith Chin told TechNewsWorld.

Communicating With One Voice

Users will have to set up Facebook Messages to take advantage of its features. In order to draw in email, they can select a Facebook email address that corresponds to their public user name on Facebook.

Users can set up Facebook Mobile to receive messages through SMS on their mobile devices, Facebook’s Chin said. Users will also be asked if they want to go online with Facebook Chat. As with other email systems, they have to link up external instant messaging services to Facebook messaging through Jabber.

If a user sends an email from Facebook Messages to a friend’s external email account, such as Gmail, it will be the same as if the user had sent an email from any other system. The recipient will be able to reply from Gmail, and the response will go to Facebook, Chin said.

Facebook uses a policy engine with “a lot of nuances” to manage input from and output to different media, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday when the company announced the system.

Facebook users who exchange emails with friends using external accounts such as Gmail on both sides won’t go through Facebook messaging at all, Chin said.

Facebook Messages “will just be another email address, from an outsider’s perspective,” Strategy Analytics’ Jia told TechNewsWorld. “But it’ll be pretty user-friendly and integrated from the Facebook user’s standpoint,” he added.

Facebook contends that it has no intention of replacing Gmail and that its messaging system isn’t email — but it does include email. “The system is definitely not email; we’ve actually modeled it more after chat,” Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s director of engineering, said at the launch Monday.

Those statements have been greeted with skepticism. “Facebook should’ve just called its messaging system ‘Get Google,'” Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, told TechNewsWorld.

Keeping Things Private

Privacy has repeatedly become an issue for Facebook, and this latest version of its message service could give rise to a fresh set of problems in that area.

For one thing, all a user’s conversations with a person are listed in a single thread. That means users can’t delete any individual message but must instead delete the entire thread.

Further, what happens if only one party to a conversation deletes a thread? Won’t the other party have a copy? And is that cause for concern?

“One must exercise caution and circumspection when using any of these online messaging forums and chats,” ITIC’s DiDio pointed out. “There is no such thing as privacy in the Internet age; if you’re online posting things, you have to proceed with the assumption and presumption that someone’s watching.”

Further, Facebook has to store the email address of the person a user is messaging in order for its messaging system to function, Chin said. This is similar to how any other email system works, she pointed out.

“We won’t be using those email addresses for anything else, and non-users have the ability to delete their email addresses from Facebook storage,” Chin said — although presumably they’d have to log on to Facebook in order to do so.

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