Facebook today announced that they have developed centralized messaging functionality, which will allow people to communicate over a variety of different mediums ‘seamlessly’. Soon you’ll be able to send your friend a text message, who will receive it as an email (or chat, or message, etc). Facebook have basically created a mechanism where any text-based communication media to or from an individual will be organized into a single thread.
In theory I find this to be a great idea. Seamless messaging is something that would solve many problems, and make life a bit easier. Unfortunately there are a few issues that I can see:
- Centralized Messaging: By virtue of this service’s actual design, I’m concerned about storing absolutely all of one’s communication in one place. Currently if someone can get into your email, they can read your mails; if they can get into your Facebook, they can read your messages and chats; if they can steal your phone, they can read your SMS. If someone adopts Facebook’s approach to centralized messaging, all of their correspondence is in one place. This means that if your account, or Facebook itself, is compromised, the entirety of your correspondence is compromised.
- Non-synchronous Communication: Let’s face it… if I want to chat to someone, I will knowingly use a chat client. Why? Because I’m prepared for that style of short and quick communication. Email, on the other hand, is not as agile. Although it’s not uncommon to rapidly exchange several emails in the space of five or ten minutes, you wouldn’t want to have a full conversation using that medium. The issue here is that people who prefer chat or SMS, will attempt to communicate with people who prefer email or messages. Each medium invokes a different behaviour and expectation. As a result, an email user will receive tons of really short chat-style one-liners filling up their inbox (with subjects as “(No Subject)”), and SMS users will (somehow) be receiving long-ass messages from email or message users.
- Perpetual Storage: At the moment if I send someone an SMS, I know that message will probably get deleted eventually when they choose to prune their texts. I also have a tiny bit more faith that SMS isn’t as easy to intercept, and generally only the person with access to the corresponding phone will be able to read it (as opposed to email where anyone with the username/password or able to intercept the network traffic can read them). If I send someone a message on AIM or some other IM, that message will usually only be logged on their local machine (if at all). In this new model, Facebook users, as well as non-Facebook users corresponding with Facebook users, would be delivering their conversations to Facebook for perpetual storage (they advertise this as a feature). Note that it’s not yet possible to delete an individual message from a conversation – you’d have to delete the entire conversation.
I want to like this feature, and to be honest centralized messaging in some form (not necessarily Facebook’s) is the future. Unfortunately that will mean entrusting much of our correspondence to some entity, and that entity (be it Google, Facebook, or someone else) will undoubtedly come under fire for having such a dangerous amount of insight and monopoly over the way we communicate.