Facebook announces e-mail service

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Today @ PC World blog at PCWorld.com.

Facebook announced Monday that it is building a full-fledged e-mail system into its 500-million-member-strong social network. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the new e-mail offering, which the company says will be introduced to users over the next couple months.

Zuckerberg announced a unified messaging system called Facebook Messages that blends e-mail, Facebook messages, SMS, and chat into a “modern messaging service.” Facebook’s 500 million users will be able to get an @Facebook.com e-mail address that will allow them to communicate within and outside the Facebook network.

Now users won’t have to leave Facebook to send e-mail to their friends, but rather click a new e-mail link in Facebook to compose and send messages. The messaging offering has been created from the ground up and is not just an improvement of Facebook’s existing limited Messaging system.

“We can do things that will help you see the e-mails that really matter on top. It’s a similar algorithm used with the news feed to put the most important people and content on top,” Zuckerberg says.

With the ability to communicate with people outside the Facebook system, Facebook will be capturing e-mail addresses and other information that didn't already exist on its servers. Zuckerberg acknowledges this, but says that information is being captured to make the messaging tool smarter and easier to use. He denies that the information collected via Facebook's messaging platform will be used to target ads, or shared with advertisers or marketers, or made accessible to Facebook app makers.

Watch out, Google

The move makes sense—it’s simply the latest volley in Facebook’s war with Google to be the place where people spend most of their time on the Internet. Google currently owns this honor, but Facebook has proven that its addictive service can hold people’s attention for long periods of time. In terms of Internet advertising and marketing, this is extremely valuable.

Facebook is clearly trying to match all the services Google provides around its core search capability. Beyond the social network service’s messaging capabilities, you can also already share links, photos, and video clips as well. There’s an instant messaging chat tool. A partnership with Skype allows you to make voice calls from the platform; Google only recently added this capability to Gmail. E-mail is the piece that has been obviously missing, and now it is here.

We will be getting a look at the actual Facebook e-mail client later this morning, and will report back with more details. It is, however, expected that “vanity” Facebook URLs, like www.facebook.com/marksullivan will turn into e-mail addresses, like marksullivan@facebook.com.

There is certain to be more discussion of privacy around this move, as Facebook begins hosting our e-mail data at its servers. What new information from our e-mail will Facebook collect and add to our social profile? But it’s the same old bargain: are you willing to give up a little more of your privacy in exchange for a free and convenient new service?

More details to come during the Facebook announcement here in San Francisco.

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