Facebook Takes On E-Mail, Messaging

Facebook unveiled a new messaging platform on Monday that takes aim at one of the Internet's first applications — e-mail. It integrates instant messaging and texting, too, into one communications platform. It will roll out over the next several months.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

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SIEGEL: Today, Facebook announced its own email service. The company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, says it is meant to help Facebook users connect more easily with their friends.

As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, it's also considered a competitive move against Google's gmail service.

LAURA SYDELL: The new Facebook system is about a lot more than email, says Zuckerberg.

Mr. MARK ZUCKERBERG (CEO, Facebook): It's a convergent system that kind of handles messages seamlessly across all the different ways that you want to communicate.

SYDELL: Zuckerberg says email is just one more way that Facebook users can communicate with their friends on the social network. And if you have a conversation with your best friend that spans across several communication forums on Facebook, you will be able to view it all in one place.

Mr. ZUCKERBERG: All your IMs, messages, emails, SMSs go into that, and you have one history, and you can kind of go through it forever, right. And that's going to be really cool because five years from now, you're going to just have this full, rich history of all of the communication that you have with each of your friends and the people around you.

SYDELL: Unlike other email systems, Zuckerberg says this one will have the advantage of knowing your friends list from Facebook, and putting those emails into a separate box.

Finn Brunton, a researcher at NYU studying social networks, says this is part of a move by Facebook to become the backbone of all interpersonal communication on the Web.

Mr. FINN BRUNTON (Researcher, NYU): It becomes, basically, the dashboard for your life. It becomes - like, something through which you can manage almost every aspect of your experience - from, you know, setting up dates and arranging events to, yeah, to doing mail and all those other things.

SYDELL: Brunton says by introducing email, Facebook is also putting itself in direct competition with Google's central place on the Internet, with its gmail service and search engine.

Mr. BRUNTON: And which Facebook becomes a kind of deep utility in the sense that Google has already become.

SYDELL: When asked if he was setting up Facebook to compete with Google's gmail system, Zuckerberg said he was trying to advance how people communicate online.

Mr. ZUCKERBERG: This simpler kind of messaging is going to be how a lot more people will shift a lot of their communication, and we'll see how that happens over time. But if we build a good product that people want to use, then people will use it.

SYDELL: Of course, with more than half a billion users, Facebook will have a distinct advantage over every other email system - from Google to Yahoo to AOL.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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