Facebook’s New Messages

On November 15th, Facebook announced a new messaging system they’d be rolling out to all users, making it easier than ever to manage not only messages sent to you on Facebook, but conversations taking place via email, chat, and SMS.

Eventually you’ll be automatically upgraded to this new way of messaging, but you can try to get in on it early by requesting an invitation. I did just that, and a few days later was invited to try it out. Here’s what I found.

What Is the New Facebook Messages?

According to Facebook, the new Messages interweaves your chats, texts and emails. It’s a central place to control all of your private communication, both on and off Facebook. Simply put, it can be a single inbox for all of your messages, no matter how you choose to send them.

How do I get it? Facebook is slowly rolling out new Messages to all users. You can try and expedite the process by clicking here and pressing the Request an Invitation button.

You can ask for an invite to new Messages on this page.

You can ask for an invite to new Messages on this page.

Once you’re in, you’ll be able to invite friends by scrolling to the bottom of your Messages inbox and clicking, Invite Friends.

If/when you do get an invite, you’ll be asked to choose a facebook.com email address, enable SMS (text messaging), and enable chat. Each of these steps are optional.

What do I get? Facebook’s new Messages comes with a whole host of new features that transform it from a simple list of messages to a full blown inbox & communications panel.

A New Interface

As you can see from the screenshots below, the new interface is cleaner and more streamlined. There’s more of a focus on both who and what; this means less clutter and therefore more room for the important information.

This is the current version of Messages, which is getting phased out

This is the current version of Messages, which is getting phased out.

This is what you get when you're invited to upgrade. Eventually, all users will see this

This is what you get when you're invited to upgrade. Eventually, all users will see this.

Most notably, Facebook has removed the subject line, citing that new Messages is “more informal” than tradition email and more like a conversation, where a subject might not always be relevant.

A facebook.com Email Address

The most significant feature is the addition of a facebook.com email address. Setting this up will enable you to send a message to anyone with an email address (not just people on Facebook) from the new Messages interface. It also enables people to both respond to those messages or send you new ones, even if they don’t have Facebook. Previously you were able to send messages to any email address but that person would have to sign up for Facebook in order to respond.

This is a conversation I had using my Facebook account and another email address I own.

This is a conversation I had using my Facebook account and another email address I own.

You would do this the same way you’d send an inter-Facebook message (note: inter-Facebook is definitely a term I just made up). Simply press the New Message button and type the user’s email address in the “To” field. The message is added to your Messages Inbox and the receiver gets an email. When he or she replies it will show up in your Messages Inbox.

When will I use this? This is a good question, considering most of us probably already have well established email addresses (I’ve had my GMail address for 6 and a half years!). I can imagine that if you’re trying to organize a party, event, or class project where most of the collaborators are on Facebook but a few are not, this could be very handy.

SMS From Facebook

Another major renovation to Messages is the ability to send and receive text messages right from the Messages Inbox. Once you enable SMS (and add a phone number that can receive text messages), you get SMS Notification options in your account settings. You can changes these by going to Account -> Account Settings ->Notifications.

This is something currently available to all users, but signing up for new Messages makes enabling it a little easier.

Once you enable SMS, you'll have the ability to control which notifications you get text messages for.

Once you enable SMS, you'll have the ability to control which notifications you get text messages for.

With SMS enabled, you now have the ability to send a text message to any of your friends who also have SMS enabled (as far as I can tell, you cannot just send a text message to any cell phone by putting a number in the “To” field). To do this, when creating a new message check the box next to the cell phone icon. Then your message will also be sent as a text message.

Checking this box will send your message as via SMS as well.

Checking this box will send your message as via SMS as well.

On top of sending messages from Facebook to a cell phone, you can send Facebook messages from your cell phone. To do this, text 32665 (FBOOK) in the following format: msg friend name your message. You can read more about this, including other commands to send, here.

Facebook says that once you turn on text messaging, the texts you exchange with friends are incorporated into your conversations along with your message and chat history, which some may feel is unclear as to whether they mean all text messages between you and friends or just the ones sent via Facebook. As far as I can tell, it’s just the ones sent via Facebook—the former would be incredibly invasive & I haven’t seen or heard anything to tell me otherwise.

Chat History

One thing I felt was missing from Facebook Chat was a chat history—something I’ve grown accustomed to in GChat and AIM. I’m happy to say they’ve finally integrated it and in an interesting way. Your chats and messages for a person are combined into one thread. That means if you message John Smith and later chat with him, it will all be in the same conversation in your inbox.

The ‘Other’ Subfolder

To keep your Messages Inbox neat and tidy, the new Messages includes an Other subfolder, which is where messages from groups, pages, events and people that aren’t friends or friends of friends reside. You have the ability to move messages to and from this folder.

Actions Button

When viewing an individual message you’ll see an Actions button, which adds a ton of functionality previously missing from Messages.

Here is the new Actions button…in action.

Here is the new Actions button…in action.

  • Forward: This functions the same way it does in traditional email. Click it and choose a friend or email address to send the message to.
  • Add People: You have the ability to include other friends or email addresses in the conversation (only available in multi-person messages).
  • Leave Conversation: I’ve wanted this feature for a long time. When you’re added to a mass message, you might like the information originally sent, but not all of the responses that follow. You now have the ability to remove yourself from those messages. Others in the conversation will see that you’ve left, and you will no longer receive notifications or responses pertaining to that message (only available in multi-person messages).
  • Archive: Like GMail, archiving will remove a message from your Messages Inbox, but keep it tucked away for you incase you need to find it later. You can access archived messages by clicking the the Search icon and choosing ‘Archived Messages’ from the drop down menu.
Facebook's new search options for Messages

Facebook's new search options for Messages.

Privacy

As far as privacy goes, the new Messages doesn’t alter your current settings. To double check everything, go to Account->Privacy Settings.

Conclusion

Facebook’s new Messages is a really big push forward for online communication. By integrating email, chat, and SMS, you can keep a nice message history and stay organized, however you prefer to correspond. In the introductory post, Facebook mentions that soon we’ll probably all stop using arbitrary ten digit numbers and bizarre sequences of characters to contact each other. We will just select friends by name and be able to share with them instantly. We aren’t there yet, but the changes today are a small first step.. They certainly are.

You can read more about Facebook Messages at Facebook’s FAQs page

There are some huge improvements and major feature adds here. My three requests are the ability to add a person to a 2-person conversation, mass edit mode for archiving/deleting multiple messages, and the ability to send a text message to any cell phone number—the same way you do for email addresses (though truthfully, I can see how this could be a privacy/security issue). I can’t wait for more of my friends to get the new Messages!


Summary

Facebook Messages interweaves your chats, texts and emails. It’s a central place to control all of your private communication, both on and off Facebook.

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