Facebook, according to a post on the company blog, has added new functionality to its internal messaging service that allows you to share select content and send messages to e-mail addresses rather than just other Facebook accounts. This means, effectively, that Facebook junkies can do all of their e-mailing through the social network's interface without needing to open up their e-mail accounts at all.
The person with the e-mail address in question will then be able to read the message and respond without needing to sign up for a Facebook account. Members can also use the enhanced messaging to share bits of content like photo albums and posted "notes" with external e-mail addresses, but the Facebook blog post from engineer Luke Shepard stressed that privacy controls may keep those locked from nonmembers.
It'll be interesting to see if Facebook ultimately opens up its messaging functionality more to allow third-party Facebook Platform developers into the mix.
Direct messaging, unlike photo sharing, events and groups, is not considered a standalone application; even though Photos, Events, Groups and Facebook Mobile were created in-house, they are uninstallable. Those applications are accessible in the same left-side menu that third-party applications are found in.
Facebook's messaging still isn't a real rival to e-mail because of how stripped-down it is, but with third-party input, it could be a more serious contender.
The new development is also significant because it's somewhat of an answer to the bloggers and pundits who have been freely tossing about that horrid old business cliche--"walled garden"--in reference to Facebook's members-only model. They are even calling it "the new AOL."
Despite whether you agree with that notion, it certainly isn't an image that Facebook wants to have as it continues its mission to "map the social graph," as founder Mark Zuckerberg likes to put it.