Sources confirm Facebook will test the option to send private messages from its website’s homepage status composer to increase messaging rates. It will also help Facebook compete with Google, whose web chat presence is strong, and just combined its Gmail, Google+, and mobile chat systems into Hangouts. It’s a risky move, as users could accidentally post private messages as status updates.
Multiple sources say that starting with a small percentage of users, Facebook plans to integrate messaging into the prominent status update and photo uploading box that sits atop the homepage. Users will be able to switch between posting to the news feed and privately communicating with select friends. I’ve reached out to Facebook for an official confirmation and statement regarding the test of status composer messaging.
Currently, users have to click a relatively tiny, untitled messaging icon in the top right of the screen to start or continue a private message thread. That means users might forget or be less likely to send messages than if the feature was better highlighted.
BOOSTING THE PACE OF CONVERSATION
The intention for status composer messaging is similar to that of the recently launched Chat Heads mobile feature, which overlays message conversation on top of all pages of the Facebook app for iOS and all apps on Android. Facebook hopes to increase the pace of conversations that generate notifications and speedy return visits from their participants on the web and mobile.
Getting people to return to its site and apps more frequently forwards Facebook’s mission and business model. Conversations create more intimate connections between friends, and the return visits for messaging can lead to browsing of the news feed where Facebook shows ads. The plan follows Facebook recently adding a “Post” button to the the persistently visible navigation bar at the top of its website. It encourages users to share more by letting them compose a post from any screen on the site.
Status composer messaging creates a critical user experience design challenge. If it’s not clear whether users are posting to the feed or messaging privately, they might mistakenly expose a message to all of their friends when then meant it to be seen by just one person. Expect Facebook to use some kind of highly noticeable design flags to signify the difference. Facebook already adds a striped border to the status box when you set the privacy on a post to “Only Me”.
Making sure it gets this right is likely one of the reasons the feature will start as a small test. If it gets negative feedback or sees people quickly deleting posts and then resending them privately, it might scrap the the plan for status composer messaging.
THE MESSAGING BATTLE RAGES ON
Cross-platform messaging has become a hotly contested space. While independent, mobile-first messaging apps are nipping at their heels, Apple, Google, and Facebook are focusing on systems that sync web and mobile communication.
Apple’s iMessage is a popular SMS replacement for iPhone to iPhone messaging, but its desktop app has less traction. Google excels on the web, with the long-running Google Talk aka GChat in Gmail linking users as they spend hours emailing. Now it’s trying to drive Google+ adoption and mobile with the unified Hangouts messenger it unveiled at Google I/O last month. That app has the advantage of free group video chat.
Facebook launched its cross-platform messaging system in 2010, and its become quite popular. It turned its acquisition Beluga into Facebook Messenger, a mobile app that’s evolved to offer location sharing, VoIP, and recorded audio messages. It works seamlessly with Facebook’s desktop Chat system, which benefits from the large amounts of time users spend on the social network’s site. Facebook’s weakness is that it doesn’t own a mobile operating system or prevalent hardware line. That puts it in danger as Apple and Google could box it out by more deeply integrating cross-platform messaging into the default SMS apps on iOS and Android.
Facebook hopes that its device-agnostic approach, high engagement, and global ubiquity can make up for it being a layer rather than a OS / device platform on mobile. If status composer messaging succeeds and it rolls out the feature to all users, it could ensure private communication is top of mind every time someone visits its site, whether their plan was to check notifications, upload photos, or browse the feed.