World and Nation

Facebook offers new unified messaging system for all users

SAN FRANCISCO — Since the heyday of AOL’s cheery “You’ve got mail” greeting, e-mail has been central to the online experience for millions of people.

But Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, says e-mail is showing its age.

In his view, e-mail is too slow, too formal and too cumbersome, especially for young people who have grown up using text messages and online chats.

On Monday, Zuckerberg introduced a new unified messaging system for Facebook that allows people to communicate with one another on the Web and on mobile phones regardless of whether they are using e-mail, text messages or online chat services.

The new service, Facebook Messages, is a bold move by Facebook to expand from a social network into a full-fledged communications system. It could help the company chip away even more at Internet portals like Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL, which have used e-mail as one of their main draws with consumers.

Analysts say that if Facebook Messages proves successful, it could greatly increase the time users spend on the site, making Facebook even more dominant. But some note that the company will face a number of challenges, like managing spam, getting users to change ingrained habits and persuading some to entrust their confidential e-mail to a company whose privacy practices have often drawn scrutiny.

The new service, which will encourage users to sign up for an e-mail address ending in (AT), has the immediacy of instant messaging and chat built in. Zuckerberg sought to downplay the threat that Facebook Messages would pose to existing e-mail services.

In addition to channeling all e-mails, text messages and chats through a single point, Facebook Messages will offer users what Zuckerberg called a “social in-box” that will prioritize messages from friends and close acquaintances, potentially saving time. And it will make it easy for people to retrieve all the communications they’ve had with a person through various channels. The service is invitation-only for now, and will be rolled out to all users over the next few months.

Some analysts said that over time users were likely to spend more time using Facebook Messages and less with their traditional e-mail services, especially as they communicate with their closest friends and associates.