Photo: Jongus via Flickr
I set up my new Facebook messaging account yesterday, and my first thought was that Facebook hadn’t thought through the experience very carefully.First, it let me reserve a Facebook e-mail address, [email protected] Great–people can send an e-mail to that address and it’ll show up in Facebook.
The second thing it asked me was whether I wanted to turn SMS on. OK, sure. It would be nice to get messages from my Facebook friends on my phone so I don’t have to open the Facebook app.
That was it. Done. Easy.
Except the first text I got was a friend request from a person I worked with 15 years ago. I accepted, but that’s not the kind of thing I want interrupting me on my phone. I immediately turned texts off.
Last night, I met Joel Seligstein, one of the developers who worked on the project. I showed him the first (and only) SMS I’d received. He acknowledged that Facebook got the sign-up flow wrong on its first attempt, apologized for my experience, and said that new sign-ups will be able to select settings more carefully so they only get messages they really want. He also let me know that I could go into my account settings and select exactly which types of messages go where.
This illustrates a big problem. Users have different expectations for who can e-mail them (just about anybody), IM them (friends on a specific list), and text them (friends who are close enough to have their cell phone number). When all of these different communications media are blended into a single system, user expectations are going to be upended in uncomfortable ways. And no normal person is going to take the time to go through and uncheck a bunch of boxes to dictate what kind of messages can go where.
Seligstein was speaking at an event focused on companies that are trying to improve e-mail–that good old platform that nobody loves but everybody needs. (The event, Inbox Love, was organised by 500 Startups founder Dave McClure and is a precursor to a conference scheduled for next year.)
During his presentation, he acknowledged that Facebook had some other stumbles with the rollout. Some folks got invitations and signed up on Monday, only to find that the system had reverted back to the old version on Tuesday. Apparently Facebook wasn’t happy with the early user experience and had to go back in and revamp it.
Seligstein also explained that it’s taking longer than expected to build IMAP support into the system because IMAP is a crazy complicated protocol with weird idiosyncrasies (other speakers agreed), and told me that the company would “probably eventually” build voice into the system, but had to get the text part right first.