Talking about the new Facebook mail system at today’s live event, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook director of engineering Andrew “Boz” Bosworth keep using words like “simple, seamless, and informal.” The system they’re describing combines email, sms, IM, and chat, all of it organized on the fly based on your Facebook social graph. It sounds like an answer to a formidable engineering challenge. But it also limns a model of sociability, a set of assumptions about how we interact and spend our time.
What was most striking, listening to Boz describe uses of email, chat, and other messaging tools: all of his examples were derived from interactions with girlfriends and grandmothers. Facebook’s sensitivity to the makeup of normative, everyday communications networks is a key to the company’s success. But there’s something slightly odious about the model. For my part, I know that only a small subset of my daily communication falls into this paradigm. It’s an important setóbut other interactions are important, too. Somehow the model of human life implied here reminds me of Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous comment about online behavior, to the effect that, if you would be embarrassed for the Internet to see what you’re doing, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. Zuckerberg and Boz took pains to point out that they don’t expect users to jettison email immediately in favor of Facebook’s new service; they acknowledge the granularity and the layered nature of social life. But it also seems correct to say that full use of the new system looks like a somewhat dumbed-down version of sociability. But there’s more to life than lunch dates and family get-togethers.