- Give out email accounts for everyone at
- Build a simple, beautiful email user interface
- Make it easy to email anyone, without having to figure out their email address. How? By leveraging the 500 million accounts that Facebook already has - their contact database is quickly becoming a White Pages for the world.
- Make it simple to search your entire conversation history, across Facebook posts, email, and Facebook IM/Messages.
[Your recipients] will receive your message through whatever medium or device is convenient for them, and you can both have a conversation in real time. You shouldn't have to remember who prefers IM over email or worry about which technology to use. Simply choose their name and type a message.This sounds great, right? In theory?
Problem is that every smart person who's ever worked on SMS, IM, or email clients has come to this identical conclusion before. And we started thinking about this perfect world where users don't have to think about transports (SMS vs. email). And then we started building this product, and realized several things:
- SMS and email are different. SMS costs $ per message. Email does not. In the Facebook UI, if you add a SMS user to an email thread, he will receive numerous SMSes from email users who don't realize that they're racking up his bill.
- SMS and email are different. If you send a message to an SMS recipient and 2 email recipients, what happens when the email recipient replies-all? The SMS receiver gets a message from some strange short code (32665 (FBOOK)), and he's confused about who sent the message & who will get the reply if he replies.
- Group IM conversations & email are different. In the Facebook UI, you can add people to the conversation & they have access to all previous chats. But that's not how IM or SMS works today - will people understand this? Or will they add people to conversations & accidentally leak secret messages to these new recipients?
- Facebook threads all conversations with a person into a single thread. Even if the threads are about different subjects (since Facebook demotes the email subject to the body). All this means is that your chat with Fred about his travel plans and which TV to buy get weirdly interleaved into a huge chat session.
- This solution doesn't actually solve any user problem. Humans were successfully texting, IMing, and emailing each other, before SmartEngineer came along & decided to slam them all together into a mixed up mess, in the name of "abstracting away the transport."
Joel Seligstein, a Facebook engineer, is relieved he no longer needs to keep track of which friends like texts vs. email vs. chat.He designed this feature to abstract away texts vs. email vs. chat. But 99% of real humans don't care about this, and won't experience his "relief" because this was never a problem in the first place. Teens always text each other, because they always have their cell phones & this is the way to reach them. And to reach your grandma, you use email. Simple. No mixing up grandma with your girlfriend.
Which brings me back to the title of this post: Why Facebook badly needs Steve Jobs.
 Original post had a different ending, but after a lot of feedback/discussion, I've revised it to this:
Someone that makes sure that the company is laser-focused on the big customer problems, not just the tough technical ones. I don't want this to sound like Steve Jobs worship; I just think he has a strong track record for meeting real customer needs. Feel free to search & replace Steve Jobs with other great product-centric CEOs. :)