Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Facebook Messaging: Do You Really Want to Use a Messaging System Based on a Focus Group of Teenagers?

Seems everybody is predicting that Facebook Messaging is going to revolutionize communication (,,, etc.). So I figured I'd throw my predicting hat into the ring and say, "Meh." There are three reasons for this: Facebook's choice of focus group for developing the new product; Facebook's prior design failures in building messaging systems; and the inherent conflict b/w Facebook's "social," sharing communication model and email's private, recipient-only model. And finally, for anyone who would underestimate the difficulties of making grand change to people's methods of communication, I have two words for you: Google Wave.

The product may be revolutionary if you are a modern teenager, Zuckerberg's apparent focus group for the project (if I read another article quoting Zuckerberg as saying that the idea for Messaging "came out of talking to current teenagers" ...). But for the rest of us? Do folks in the real world really want to use a product designed with the communication styles of high schoolers in mind? (and I'm not going to try to mock those communication styles since I'll probably just get it wrong, but we all went to high school once and how many of us want that experience rehashed in our inboxes every day? The occasional Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller screening should be enough to remind us that *those are not days we want to go back to*)

At the same time, every one of Facebook's attempts at a communications fool so far has been to my taste unbelievably kludgy (think about the existing Facebook Messaging and IM systems compared to their competitors, or Michael Arrington's comment that the previous iteration of Facebook Messaging was "completely unusable as a personal or business productivity tool"). Even the demos of the new Messaging demos I've seen continue much of this kludgy-ness, and my predictions of adoption by the post-high school crowd are extremely low. Do I really want all of my communication to be sorted exclusively by who it's with? And subject lines may be an unnecessary formality in rare cases, but generally they serve to let me know what the rest of the message - and the entire conversation thread - is about, and to separate conversations accordingly.

Finally, there is an inherent conflict of interest b/w the use of private messaging systems like email, in which conversations are designed to be seen only by their recipients, and the kind of public conversations that Twitter and Facebook (through wall posts) encourage. Facebook wants all your conversations to be out there in the open, wants as much public sharing as possible, and email fundamentally represents the opposite of that. Therefore it's hard to see a company like Facebook seriously committing to the development of a private messaging system of any kind, over the long term.

But then again maybe at 31 I'm just an old fogey who doesn't "get it" when it comes to "modern messaging" (as Zuckerberg puts it). I just requested my Messaging invite and may end up eating my words if it promises to be the biggest revolution in modern communication since Twitter. But somehow I doubt it. Communication paradigm shifts happen organically, not by declaration from on high. Just think back to last year when to buzz was all about Wave, another promised revolution in social communication. We all know how that went ...