Facebook: the network within

Facebook: the network within

Facebook announced on Monday the launch of its own unified messaging system. The new system, codenamed Type, will combine SMS, email and instant messages into continuous correspondence between users. Facebook will also use its history of a user’s social interactions to figure out which messages are important. These messages will then rise to the top of the user’s unified inbox.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg was cautious at the press conference. Type was not, he said, a Gmail killer. That is not to say that Zuckerberg won’t be chuffed if Type does kill Gmail.

Google continues to make pots of money from its search and advertising business. But the company has struggled to replicate Facebook’s ability to create networks out of individuals and then monetize these. Here, Zuckerberg’s company is without peer. Despite the firm’s abysmal record when it comes to privacy, millions continue to sign up and share personal information. At the Type release the company said it had around 500 million users (350 million use the existing Facebook messaging system, almost double the number of Gmail users)

The network’s success is based on an awkward compromise. In return for a comprehensive social networking platform, users turn a blind eye to Facebook’s blatant exploitation of private information for targeted advertising. If a consumer goods firm wants to talk to 30-year-old mothers of girl children in tier III cities in India, Facebook can help it find them with laser-guided accuracy.

Some analysts predict that Facebook will make at least a billion dollars in revenue this year. With Type, Facebook wants to become the default start page for users. If you already have Facebook and Gmail open all day, Zuckerberg is saying that this is one window too many.

If this works, then Facebook will create even deeper information databases about users, relationships and preferences. Users will spend more time on the site, and advertisers will know more things about more people.

On the same day that it unveiled Type, Facebook overtook eBay to become the third largest Amerian Internet company with a valuation of $41 billion. Only Google and Amazon are bigger.

It has done this not by selling goods, like Amazon or eBay, or even services, like Google’s search. Facebook has done this by helping people stay in touch. A unified messaging system can make its leadership in social networks unshakeable.

Can Facebook beat Google? Tell us at views@livemint.com