Facebook new Messages: Everything you need to know

We talked through the arrival of Facebook Chat, we were there when Facebook Places hit the ground and now that Facebook new Messages has been received we’re sending out word of exactly what this latest branch of the world’s favourite social network is all about.

So, for those more than a little confused of what Zuckerberg International has had to say, here’s the plain English of what it means for you, the user, and when you can expect to be checking it out for yourself.

What is Facebook New Messages?

The short answer is that it’s like the old or current version of Facebook Messages only one step further in its evolutionary history. At the moment, your Message centre is pretty much a list of any new messages that come in, in chronological order, in a pseudo email inbox style. You compose a message to someone, they receive it and, if you’re lucky, they reply. You might find out about it through email notification, but that’s about as complicated as it gets.

The next generation of this facet of the social network takes things quite a few steps on. The first thing to note is that you can now send and receive messages as SMS on your mobile phone as well. On top of that, new Messages will also incorporate your instant Facebook Chat IMs too, whether or not you were online to receive them live. Finally, you’ll also be offered an @facebook.com email address and the new Messages centre is where these mails can be sent and received from. Confused? No problem. Let’s get granular.

How does it work

The idea behind the whole project is to make it become irrelevant what device and via which medium people contact each other, and it does this by putting all the communications in one place which is the Facebook new Messages centre. Within new Messages, there will be two main areas.

Social Inbox

The Social Inbox is the bigger and more interesting section where you can send and receive communications between yourself, friends and friends of friends. Facebook has more or less ignored the idea of subject headings in messages and will instead list the Social Inbox by contact. Click on the contact and it will expand to show an entire threaded conversation between you and them from the year dot until the present day. This will include all the Facebook Chats as well. It will also include email and SMS communications between the two of you, but only those sent to your @facebook.com address and texted from your phone in a special way. More on that in a minute.

You’ll be able to search your Social Inbox as you would your normal email service, i.e. by contact or the content of the messages, and add attachments of all sorts of shapes and sizes at will. You’ll also be at liberty to add people into conversations and remove yourself from group chats that you’ve had enough of. Just like email, you can forward and reply in the normal way, but perhaps one of the more interesting twists is the way the Social Inbox will filter your messages - those at the top will be from people closer to you and the group talks will not appear so high up.

Other subfolder

While your Social Inbox is where messages from friends and friends of friends turn up, anything sent by other individuals, faceless corporations and/or spammers, will turn up in the Other subfolder instead, by virtue, of course, that they are not in your social network. The idea is that you don’t have to get your bank statements mixed in with your fun stuff. What’s more, it also keeps the riff raff at bay. Should you get social messages or emails sent in that aren’t from friends or friends of friends, you can always tick a box next to them in the Other subfolder to switch them forever-more to your Social Inbox instead. By the same token, you can demote contacts from certain friends or friends of friends to Other or even block them entirely. That way, the parameters of who gets in and who doesn't remain tight but under your control.

So how does the email and SMS work then?

This is the first time that you’ll be able to send and receive Facebook communications across the Facebook/rest of the world barrier in quite the same way, but the upshot is that it will be more or less completely possible to live your entire email and messaging life through the social network.

@facebook.com email

Everyone will have access to a free @facebook.com email address if they wish to use it. You give it out as your normal email address and anyone who sends you emails will either end up in your Social Inbox or Others subfolder depending upon whether or not they appear in your social circle. You can of course adjust this as it goes, but the result is that you get an in-built, if slightly heavy, spam filter. Emails will appear in your threaded histories under each contact’s name and will integrate just as seamlessly as all the other media. Effectively, you won’t need to know whether it was sent by email or not. Mails will just appear in you threaded histories. When you reply to external email addresses, the formatting will appear exactly as it should do when it arrives in Gmail or Hotmail or wherever your recipient chooses to read it.

As for claiming your free @facebook.com email address, the bad new is that it has to be the same as whatever your Facebook public user name is - i.e whatever is written in the URL address bar of your browser after Facebook.com/ when looking at your profile page. So, if some bugger has already claimed your name, you’re stuck with Joe.Bloggs173 or whatever it is you got lumbered with. If you haven’t already claimed a public user name, you can do so here. Your actual name whole and pure is unlikely to be available, so please don’t get your hopes up.

SMS

While the rest of the communications methods are relatively smooth, text is perhaps the one that’s not going to work so well. The reason is that you need to preface every text you send with “msg john smith” - if you’re trying to get hold of your buddy John Smith - and rather than send to Mr Smith’s phone number, you text the message to 32665 instead which is the alpha-numeric for FBOOK. Of course, what will happen if you have two friends called John Smith is currently a mystery.

By the same token, you can “Send To Phone” from your new Messages Social Inbox to fling messages straight out to your buddies’ mobiles. All of this can be yours as soon as you activate text messaging from Facebook.

How does this affect my privacy?

As ever with Facebook, the watchword is privacy and changes often cause interesting repercussions in this department. The good news here is that much of it is still largely in your control when you head into the Privacy Settings.

Who can send me a message?

As is currently the case, anyone on Facebook can send you a message whether or not they’re a friend of yours and, in the same way, once you have an @facebook.com email people from outside the site will be able to email you on it regardless of whether or not you know them. The difference, of course, is that all unknown senders will end up in your Other subfolder and not your main Social Inbox. If that isn’t security enough for you, you can change your Who Can Message Me options in the Privacy Settings to keep it to your social circle only.

Will my @facebook.com email address be listed?

Your email address will not appear on your profile unless you want it to. The only issue is that because your email address will match your public user name, people will be able to tell what it is. Whether this is going to cause enormous amounts or spamming into your Other subfolder or not will be a problem that Facebook has to deal with.

Will applications be able to message me?

The short and rather nasty answer is yes. Yes, they will, but only applications that you have given permission to do so. Essentially, any app that you attach to your Facebook profile will probably insert the rights to do that. Facebook hasn’t stated which area of your inbox these messages will appear in by default, but there should be no problem in blocking or relegating them into the Others subfolder.

Can I delete individual messages from my threaded histories?

At the moment, that’s not possible. You can delete entire conversations but not individual messages.

Who holds the rights to the content of my messages?

Facebook has said nothing specific about this in this announcement, so, presumably it would be the same terms of service that currently apply. As it stands intellectual property that you post on Facebook can be used by the company royalty-free for the time that it exists on the site subject to certain other conditions. So, coupled with the fact that you can’t delete individual messages, it might make some people feel like watching what they say. However, this wouldn’t be the only mail service to hold such rights.

Do privacy settings work the same way for children?

No. Essentially, the Everyone setting doesn’t work in the same way. It is not possible for minors to receive messages from everyone. Instead it will be limited to friends and friends of friends only. Any other messages will be bounced completely and will not even turn up in the Other subfolder.

When can I get Facebook new Messages?

Facebook new Messages is rolling out from now and instructions on the upgrade will turn up as it arrives for your account. If you want to make sure that it comes to you as quickly as possible, then you can request an invitation here.

So, how do you feel about new Messages? Are you up for using a Facebook email address or does it scare the hell out of you? Either way, do you think that this kind of device/platform agnostic communication is a glimpse at the future? Let us know in the comments.



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