Despite the odd request for an opinion, we’ve been reserved when it has come to speculating about what Facebook Messages will mean to email designers and their clients. Facebook announced this under the ominous ‘Project Titan’ label in mid-November - predictably, over two months (and much hysteria) later, we’re only just starting to see these updates get rolled out, let alone the ‘emailpocalypse’.
Finally, a couple of folks on our team gained access to Facebook Messages and to be honest, the sentiment has been pretty flat. Our friends at Litmus obviously felt the same when they got a early sneak-peek and declared it to be ‘irrelevant to email marketers’. But the awkwardness of not having subject lines in replies and segregation to the ‘Other’ pile aside, we thought we’d provide some practical observations on how Facebook Messages deals with email campaigns.
The first thing you’ll notice when looking at an HTML email in Messages’ ‘Other’ inbox is that the plain-text alternative is displayed by default. The column width is roughly 60 characters wide, meaning that Facebook forces lines of text to wrap if they extend beyond this:
It’s often really easy to ignore the text version of your campaign (unless you’re sending plain-text emails, of course), so this is a solid reminder that it’s worth putting a bit of effort in, also for the sake of mobile device users and anyone who prefers to read their email sans HTML support. We’ve even got some plain-text templates and formatting tips to help you back on the path.
Note that Messages does not automatically turn URLs into links, which to us is a real usability boo.
There’s a little ‘expand’ link next to the plain text version, that loads the HTML content of an email campaign in a lightbox window. The link may not be the most obvious thing in the world, but after the initial coverage on Facebook Messages, I guess we were glad to see HTML email support there at all. Or, so we thought.
You see, every month, we send out an HTML email newsletter. We test it. We keep it simple. Here’s what it looks like in most email clients:
With Facebook overriding, or ignoring our CSS styles, we were in for a bit of a surprise:
Admittedly, our newsletter isn’t perfect and we haven’t tested Facebook’s CSS support down to the smallest attribute. But as we all know, it only takes a few properties to knock down all the fences. So far, we’ve found that:
paddingis not supported, thus the collapsed sections
background-coloris also not supported
ptags have a margin of 10-15px applied to both the top and bottom (unless explicitly defined in your styles)
I’m sure there’s more to find, but those were the most visible rendering issues. Overall, we’d say Messages’ HTML email rendering capability is on par with Gmail’s - not bad, not awesome - with a few points in the positive for having images turned on by default, but a few points docked for fickle CSS support.
I personally don’t think this version of Facebook Messages will become a rising star in the email client world. Geared towards short form, text-only messages, its certainly a step up if you value chattering within your Facebook friend network (and its text messaging support is a bonus in this regard), but its limitations as an email platform will most likely prevent it from being widely used as an everyday email address. Plus, would you take a job applicant really seriously if they were sending from a @facebook.com address? Really?
Then again, Facebook Messages may be the unified communications solution of the future and I may live to eat my headband. But for a couple of reasons, I don’t think that will be the case anytime soon.
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