So what do I think of Facebook’s new “Social” inbox?  I’m going to avoid any privacy arguments here and focus specifically on the potential of the service they describe.

I’m going to go along with the sections they have in their release video which is included below.


1.) “All you should need to send someone a message is the person and the message and thats it!”  Well yes, I suppose that is a really nice concept and the dilemma does ring true.  Some people only email, some people only text, some only Facebook and some Bebo…really?  Bebo?  Indeed it would be great to have all of these things in one place.  I suppose you could think of it like a multi-protocol chat client which supports all text mediums of communication.  This does already exist in the form of Google Voice, which is the same except it includes voice as well.  So in theory transcribed conversations which are spoken.  If you don’t know about Google Voice there is a reason for this, it’s only available in the US at the moment.  I’ve been wanting it since it was announced over here in the UK.  I wonder if Google will regret not pushing it out more quickly?  Anyway the concept is good as far as everything you receive and everything you send can be in one place (Privacy issues aside).

2.) You get an @facebook.com email address and continues streams of conversations.  This is nice for general chatter and I can see it being popular and Facebook are adamant about the fact that it is not creating an email service.  It really isn’t an email service,  is as they put it “more like a conversation” with no email subjects, no CC fields and no BCC fields.  The main reason for having an @facebook.com address is to allow people without facebook accounts to contact you still by email.  It’s a good solution to the “I have a friend or parent or employer/employee who refuses to use Facebook.” problem.

3.) “The Social Inbox”.  This is the same as email filters.  Nothing different, your friend list is just your filter list.  Actually there is something different.  I bet it’ll be less flexible than email filters.  Both Hotmail and GMail offer this service in automatic forms, such as Priority Inbox and customisable forms, standard email filtering and categorizing.  It isn’t a new concept or idea, no matter how nicely Facebook wrap it up in their pretty wrapping paper (video).  One upside is it may be easier to use, which is no bad thing in this day and age.  Personally I like to be able to customise my filters for me personally rather than play with limited options but each to their own, simplicity may win the battle (not the way I might add).

4.)  ”It is not Email”.  I’ve covered this, no it’s not email, neither does it bring anything new, contrary to what Facebook seem to be trying to push as a new feature.  This functionality already exists in email as automatic filters for email spam and custom filters for people you want to block or just segregate from others.  I feel like Facebook were desperate to get 5 features out… “nice number syndrome”… which gives us…

5.) What they call “Social Context”.   No subjects?  Grouping content by person?  All contact with someone in one long stream?  This is where my main qualm about the service lies.  The quality and reason for conversation is undermined…

There is a limit to how much information that can be absorbed at once and also a meaning in separating large amounts of information.

It helps with memory, concentration and organisation to name a few.  Compartmentalising large amounts of information is something we all do naturally. It is present everywhere, possibly the best example being that every degree is made up of modules, and every module is made up of topics and every topic is made up of sections.  This doesn’t happen by chance, it’s because it’s efficient, it’s how we as a human race remember things and organise our lives.  Just think how you group everything together all the time for a couple of seconds.

“Meaningful” conversation,  conversation which is being had to an end, for a reason, with an aim , is fundamentally telling another person facts and statements and getting the same in return.

Making these facts a long list without any segregation will result in less fact absorption, less interest, and far less conversational efficiency.

You just try to remember most of that conversation you had with your Aunt last week, you might get some of it but not much.  Now do you remember that email you got from XYZ last week, with the subject UVW?  It’s far more likely that you will remember the content of that email than the content of a conversation.  Also how often do you get asked to bullet point things to get information across succinctly and efficiently?  People forget things, compartmentalising things helps that happen at a lesser rate.  So is putting all your text based communications in one long stream really a good idea? Is this a case of lets do it “because we can” rather than “because we need to” or “because its better”?  Don’t get me wrong, I love the “because we can” methodology in creating things, to name one, Google Wave, but I don’t think this will be good when it comes to remembering anything which gets said and therefore, kind of undermines the main meaning in having conversation.

Conclusion

(to a very texty article – apologies – Facebook hasn’t released the service yet so I can’t get you any screenshots).

I think the service will work well, have large activity, with lots of conversation with the added convenience of text based communication amalgamation.  I do also feel however that the conversation within this new service will be mostly nonsense conversation with no meaning or end, just general chat.  Not a bad thing, but not necessarily a good thing either, what do you think?

See the Facebook announcement http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=452288242130>here