Facebook announced this week that they are extending their messaging system to provide email and SMS integration. Apparently email is too formal (!) for Mark Zuckerberg, and Facebook are solving a problem that is plaguing people across the globe.
I’m old enough that I can take-or-leave Facebook, unlike anyone under 20, or so it seems (and age is the overriding determinant in how people use social media and messaging, as it is with any technology). Sometimes I use it, but sometimes I go weeks without checking what’s happening there. I certainly don’t rely on Facebook, and don’t upload anything that is either important to me, or that might come-back to haunt me too much in the future. It’s an age thing.
I worry that Facebook, like Google, is becoming too powerful. Proprietary systems are bad for the internet, certainly when they become monopolies (which Facebook and Google have effectively become). Google likes to say they are ‘open’, most vocally about Android. They aren’t – most of their search business is totally closed. Gmail is given away free but is used to drive advertising. This all gives Google huge power, which they may or may not use carefully in the future.
And now Facebook is launching a proprietary messaging platform. If it becomes successful, this will give them huge power – they are piggy-backing onto the most widespread and open messaging system (email) to propagate Facebook membership – how long will it be that you need a Facebook account to benefit from certain key features, or even receive messages at all?
I don’t use Gmail. I won’t be using Facebook Messages. I’ll continue with my antiquated email, IM and texting. People used to worry about Microsoft (rightly) having market dominance. They still do, but that now seems harmless compared to the potential power of Google and Facebook.
Time will tell if Messages is successful – certainly Google failed with Wave, but that was a bit too different for people to understand. I’m sure Facebook have learned from Googles failure. Power over communication is a hugely significant thing – ask any dictator how important it is to control TV and the press.