Facebook has been busy rolling out its Messages feature to all of its half billion users. Facebook Messages combines chat, email, and cellphone text messages into one application. So, for instance, if I were your Facebook friend, you could click my name on your Messages page and view all of our communications in one stream. A conversation you start with me in Facebook chat could be continued using text messaging on our phones, or even email. Messages maintains your communication history, so you can view your stream of conversations with each of your friends over the course of years. Facebook supplies its users with @facebook.com email accounts, but Messages also works with non-Facebook email addresses as well.
Facebook calls its service Seamless Messaging. It’s actually a form of what the industry calls Unified Communications. Communication has become complicated with many of us owning multiple email accounts, multiple chat accounts, and even multiple phone numbers. Accessing all of those accounts can be time consuming and error-prone. Unified communications allows users to access all of their communications through one interface. Facebook isn’t alone in its pursuit of unified communication. Google Voice allows users to merge multiple phone numbers into one central online service, where phone calls can be screened, redirected, and voice mail messages can be transcribed and delivered through email or text message.
Unified communication allows users to take control of the complexity of communications. Facebook Messages combines various types of messages into ongoing conversation streams. It allows users to sort messages from friends into one folder, and all others into another folder. It also provides a strong solution for spam.
Recent trends in online communication are moving away from traditional email and moving towards Facebook posts, tweets, and text messages. Facebook’s Messages feature may well point the way to the future of online communication. It is safe to assume that Facebook will be pursuing voice and video communications in the near future as well. As we move towards unified communication, it is smart to consider the benefits and risks of trusting a single commercial provider with all of our communications.