Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has unveiled an improved communications system for the social networking site that he said may supersede email.
Facebook Messages will be upgraded over the coming months to combine email, IM and text messaging in a single chat function. Users will get an @facebook.com email address and can filter messages down to groups of friends.
The move was anticipated late last week, but Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook Messages "is not an email killer".
Zuckerberg explained that email currently takes no account of how important each message is to the reader, and that the Friend function of Facebook can be used as a filter.
All messages in whatever format can be stored in a continuous stream for future use, according to Facebook, and the new inbox will have three sections: immediate messages from Facebook friends; an 'other' inbox for useful but non-friend contacts; and a spam folder.
Messages are direct, and cannot be 'cced' or 'bcced', and Facebook will provide an unspecified amount of cloud storage.
"I'm intensely jealous of the next generation who will have something like Facebook for their whole lives," said Facebook engineer Joel Seligstein.
"They will have the conversational history with the people in their lives all the way back to the beginning, from 'Hey nice to meet you' to 'Do you want to get coffee sometime' to 'Our kids have soccer practice at 6pm tonight.' That's a really cool idea."
Zuckerberg believes that email is unlikely to remain as a lasting standard in its current form, and that a simplified system could work better, particularly for younger generations who send far more text messages than emails.
Work on the new software has been going on for around 15 months, Zuckerberg said, and Facebook recently hired Lars Rasmussen, former head of Google's defunct Wave communications suite, to work on the platform.
Zuckerberg was insistent that the upgrade is not designed to replace email, but the news will be worrying for existing email providers.
Google's Gmail is the fastest growing webmail service, but Yahoo and Microsoft still have major, if shrinking, market shares.
In related news, AOL announced updates to its email service on Sunday. The new Project Phoenix service includes email account aggregation, threaded message display and the ability to update social networking accounts.
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