What they would like, apparently, was Facebook’s new messaging service. This magic system would work with email, direct messages, and texts so that people communicated through a single channel, yet used whatever method they chose.
Nothing like an upstart billionaire attacking a venerable institution to spawn a media frenzy. Was the service going to be a Gmail killer? Was email at death’s door, or had it actually crossed the threshold into the hereafter?
Zuck’s proclamations notwithstanding, email is still looking rather healthy. A year after the announcement, Visible Gains posted an infographic that calculated the number of email accounts at 2.9 billion (almost four times the then number of Facebook accounts). The number of emails sent in 2010 was 107 trillion, a 19% increase from 2009. Most important, teenagers -- the same teenagers who thought email was too slow and formal -- believed three to one that email was here to stay.
So what do you do if you’ve built an email killer, and email refuses to die? You attack it. In June 2012, Facebook replaced the primary email address on your account with a “facebook.com” address the company created for you. Facebook didn’t let people know they were doing this, either; I think most people found out their emails had been changed when they tried to look up someone’s email, saw the facebook.com address, became intrigued, and decided to check their own.
This new email address delivered emails from people you know to your main Messages folder: a step towards the consolidated experience promised by Zuckerberg. Unfortunately, if someone you weren’t connected with tried to email you, the message went to your “Other” folder -- a folder that most people don’t know about and that gives you no notifications of activity.
Lest you think I’m exaggerating the subtlety of Facebook’s message manipulation, even New York Times former tech columnist David Pogue fell victim to the hidden messages, in July writing a warning to his readers to pay attention to their Other folders .
So Facebook’s messaging services are tricky and frustrating. It’s no wonder they’re not really taking off. Other platforms are far ahead of the social network, most notably WhatsApp, which is logging 200 minutes per week per Android user compared to only 25 minutes per week for Facebook.
Email hasn’t been killed. All Facebook has done is create an additional channel: a channel that needs to be checked, that can be overlooked, that -- in the case of the Other folder -- requires a certain level of sophistication to remain on top of.
Far from solving our problem, Facebook has added to it. Its messaging service is designed for the company to control market share, not for us to improve our lives.
As the number of channels requiring our attention continues to grow, it seems obvious that the solution is not a replacement service, not a switch to Facebook email instead of Gmail. The solution is amalgamation. Let me use a single interface to track and respond to all my messages, from all my people. That would be a solution with the customer in mind. That would be a solution that would improve my life. So let me know when you’ve developed it. I’m looking forward to signing up.