While each of the social network's more than 500 million users will have the chance to get an facebook.com e-mail address as the new service gradually rolls out to members in coming months, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the goal was not to create the world's largest e-mail network, but to merge external e-mail, text messaging, instant messages and Facebook's existing internal messaging service into a new kind of seamless communication system.
News of the new message system, the product of 15 months of intensive work within Facebook dubbed "Project Titan," has received intensive attention in the tech media in recent days based on the speculation that it would in one fell swoop eclipse the world's largest e-mail networks - Microsoft Hotmail's 361 million users, Yahoo Mail's 273 million users or Google Gmail's 193 million users.
But Zuckerberg said Facebook's goal was not to steal e-mail traffic from its rivals, but to dissolve the fragmentation between the various computer and smart-phone communication channels, including e-mail, IMs and phone text messages.
"This is not an e-mail killer," Zuckerberg told journalists at a heavily attended announcement in San Francisco, where the tech media is massed this week for the Web 2.0 Summit. "This is a messaging system that includes e-mail as one part of it. We don't expect anyone to wake up tomorrow and say, 'I'm going to shut down my Yahoo Mail or Gmail account, and switch to Facebook.' "
The new system will allow Facebook members to send e-mail from within their Facebook page to any external e-mail address. But it also will allow people to see incoming e-mail from outside Facebook or a text message sent from a friend's smart phone on their Facebook page, all integrated within a "conversation" assigned to that one single person.
Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the website Search Engine Land, said while the success the success of the new system will depend on how easy people find it to use, and while it might not trump more functional e-mail platforms like Gmail overnight, for Facebook "it'll tie people to the service" more closely.
The system will also allow essentially unlimited archiving of the ongoing conversation with a particular person, meaning that a Facebook user could see their entire communication with that person in one place, across a variety of communication methods.
And Zuckerberg said that because Facebook knows its users' networks of friends, it would be much more efficient at filtering out spam or less important e-mail messages.