Social networking giant Facebook has launched a new messaging service that some are already touting as a Gmail killer - but is it just another phase in the social network's quest to hoover up all the personal data of its 500 million users?
The new Facebook Messages service was unveiled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg at an event in San Francisco, ahead of this year's Web 2.0 Summit.
Facebook's "seamless messaging" system will give users a @facebook.com email address. - but in a post on the official Facebook blog, company engineer Joel Seligstein emphasised that Messages would be a very different beast from Google's online email offering.
"To be clear, Messages is not email," he wrote. "There are no subject lines, no cc, no bcc, and you can send a message by hitting the Enter key."
The new Messages service is a hybrid that crosses platforms and devices, allowing users to communicate irrespective of which device or messaging platform they are using.
"You decide how you want to talk to your friends: via SMS, chat, email or Messages. They will receive your message through whatever medium or device is convenient for them, and you can both have a conversation in real time," explained Seligstein.
"You shouldn't have to remember who prefers IM over email or worry about which technology to use. Simply choose their name and type a message."
At the launch of Messages, Zuckerberg, called email "too slow and formal".
Instead, he said, the new system would bring together Facebook's existing instant messaging system, SMS, Facebook messages and the new email address. He also revealed plans to allow the system to sync with other email accounts.
Facebook Messages organises contacts by name, rather than using email addresses, telephone numbers or other handles, in what Facebook dubs "the social inbox".
And there's the rub. Zuckerberg tells us, "You will only be able to see messages that really matter to you."
Who decides that? Facebook, it seems.
Remember The Social Graph, Facebook's attempt to mass-migrate users to more open privacy settings, allowing third parties on partner sites to make use of Facebook public profile data to 'customise' users' web experience - in return for a fat revenue share by Zuckerberg and co.?
Facebook has repeatedly and high-handedly abused users' trust - trust that led a young Zuckerberg to deride the fledgling site's users as "dumb f**ks" in an instant messenger conversation. And there's little reason that things will be any different this time.
Facebook's new Messages system is currently only available to those with an invite, with a wider roll-out promised over the next several months.
We can think of at least one user who won't be taking advantage of it.