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E-Mail War: Facebook Launches New 'Gmail Killer' Messaging Platform

SAN FRANCISCO (AP/TheBlaze) -- If you thought so-called "social media" sites were just a modern fad, think again.

Facebook unveiled a new messaging platform Monday that takes aim at one of the Internet's first applications, e-mail.

Although blogs had been speculating that Facebook would announce an e-mail service to rival Google Inc.'s Gmail and others, Facebook said e-mail was just one component of its plans.

Declaring e-mail past its prime in the age of texts and instant messages, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company doesn't believe e-mail is going to be a modern messaging system. The first Internet e-mail system arrived in the early 1970s.

Zuckerberg dismissed notions that "Project Titan," as its service is called, is the "Gmail killer" it's been dubbed as in the press. But he also said that just as high school students are forgoing e-mail in favor of shorter, more immediate chats, more people down the line will send IMs and chats because it's simpler, "more fun" and more valuable to use.

Though e-mail is still a primary form of communication for older adults, recent studies suggest this is not the case for young people. Text messaging has surpassed face-to-face contact, e-mail, phone calls and instant messaging as the primary form of communication for U.S. teens, according to a 2009 survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

E-mail use was the lowest — only 11 percent of teens said they use it every day to interact with friends, compared with 54 percent who said they text daily and 30 percent who said they use landline phones.

The popular social network unveiled its plans in San Francisco on Monday, a day before Zuckerberg speaks at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

Underscoring the enormity of the project, Facebook's director of engineering, Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, said 15 Facebook engineers worked on the project for 15 months.

The new platform has three main pieces:

Seamless messaging - Instead of dealing with the dilemma of reaching people via e-mail or direct message or SMS, all of these will be combined, so that you'll be able to reach someone the way they prefer to be reached, without you having to think about it. "All you need is a person and a message," said Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering for Facebook.

Conversation history - All communiques between friends will be logged, regardless of their format, so that you can browse all sorts of exchanges between you and your individual peeps.

Social inbox - Since they know your friends, and those friends of friends, Facebook will apply social filters to the e-mail inbox, prioritizing real humans who you like over spambots you'd rather avoid. Even just the stuff you don't care as much about, bank statements, pages you've liked, etc., gets routed to an "Other" folder, which you'd check less often.

You'd even be able to set your controls so that any e-mail not from a friend gets bounced completely.

As for those facebook.com e-mail addresses, if you've already got a Facebook username, that, plus @facebook.com, will be your new e-mail address. However, the whole thing is rolling out slowly, over the course of months, and will start by invite only at first. "Once you receive an invitation," says a Facebook blog posting, "you'll be able to get started and also invite your friends to join you."

Though the vast majority of older Americans still rely on traditional e-mail to communicate back-and-forth, Zuckerberg predicts sites like his will be the future of online messaging.

"If we do a good job with that, someday people will start to say, hey, this is the way the future should work," Zuckerberg concluded. "Maybe E-mail just isn't as important as it once was."

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