Facebook's New Communication Hub Much More than Email

The flurry of rumors that Facebook would launch its own email client turned out to be true … and completely wrong.

At a press event today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will soon include an entire communications hub that brings together all kinds of digital communication, including email, IM, Facebook messages and SMS texts.

It will be possible for users to get an @facebook.com email address, meaning that the company is indeed launching its own email service, but according to Zuckerberg that's almost beside the point. He reiterated that this new service was not a Gmail-killer, as rumored.

"This is not an email killer," he said. "This is a messaging system that has email integrated into it."

In the new Facebook messaging service, all forms of communication will be condensed into a single system. The company showed a demo where a user received an email from a friend while chatting with someone else. The email actually showed up in the chat window, and when the user responded in the chat window, Facebook sent the response back by email.

The service would have several ways to notify users that they have received messages. The emphasis is less on how the message arrived and more on responding quickly.

All "conversations" are automatically saved so users can review their conversation history at any time, Zuckerberg explained. Users also have the ability to delete or archive those conversations, regardless of what form they were in.

The last major feature is called the "social inbox," which Zuckerberg said adds a new level of context to messages and can even prevent spam. The company already filters out spam just like other email clients, but having a record of who a user's friends are adds a new level of filtering.

"Because we know who your friends are, we can do some really good filtering for you to make sure you only see messages that you care about," Zuckerberg said.

Facebook will group messages into three areas: junk, acquaintances and friends. Junk is immediately filtered out and set aside just like spam, and messages from acknowledged friends are displayed prominently. The rest – bill notices, emails from distant relations, etc. – will not be put in junk but will also be separate as Facebook assumes they are not the messages you most care about.

The company expects you'll respond to friend messages immediately (the service notifies users accordingly) and check the other messages only once or twice a day to see if there is anything urgent. Users can move contacts from one group to another at will.

Zuckerberg said these features will roll out slowly over a matter of months. The company will offer the service by invitation only at first while they test and refine it. After that it will continue to roll out slowly to all users. The focus is mainly on text-based communication for now, but Zuckerberg hinted that things such as VoIP and video chat could be added in the future.