(Adds Gmail outage in 10th paragraph.)
Facebook Inc. introduced an e-mail service for users of its social-networking site, stepping up competition with Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
Facebook is giving all users an "@facebook.com" e-mail address, Mark Zuckerberg, the company's chief executive officer, said today at an event in San Francisco. The new service will include text messaging and instant messaging as well as traditional e-mail.
By adding e-mail, Palo Alto, California-based Facebook provides an alternative to Google's Gmail, the fastest-growing Web mail service in the past year. It also steps up pressure on Microsoft and Yahoo, which are vying for the attention of Web users, who rely more on social sites for information and staying in touch with friends.
"This is not an e-mail killer," Zuckerberg said. "Maybe we can help push the way people do messaging more towards this simple, real time, immediate, personal experience."
Gmail had 193.3 million global users in September, an increase of 21 percent from a year earlier, according to Reston, Virginia-based data tracker ComScore Inc. Gmail still trails Microsoft's Windows Live Hotmail's 361.7 million users and Yahoo's 273.1 million. Both of those services saw declines in visitors in September from the year-ago period.
With Facebook's new product, users can send messages to their friends that will appear as mobile-phone text messages, e- mails or instant messages, based on the preferences they set for each friend. Before, users would get alerts in their outside e- mail when friends posted a photo or commented on their Facebook wall.
Facebook users can now attach Microsoft Office documents to their messages on the social network, Microsoft said in a blog post today.
Facebook, the world's largest social-networking service, may be able to filter out spam messages better than other Web mail rivals by using friend data, Danny Sullivan who runs the website Search Engine Land, said in an interview.
"The idea of a white list of people that are just friends with you—that sounds great," said Sullivan. "That may put pressure on Google" to improve its system for ranking messages that are important to users.
Gmail experienced an outage today around the time of the Facebook announcement. The disruption was resolved in about 10 minutes, Google spokeswoman Victoria Katsarou said in an e-mail.
Yahoo took steps last month to make its service more appealing to Web users enamored of social networks. It introduced a version of e-mail that integrates posts from microblogging site Twitter Inc. and delivers information at faster speeds. The service, still in a test phase, also improves searches, spam protection and the viewing of photos.
AOL Inc., the one-time market leader in e-mail, previewed changes to its Web mail yesterday. The new features let users see images, maps and other attachments contained in a message in a panel on the side of the screen. AOL was fifth in Web e-mail in September with 30.7 million users, a drop of 18 percent from a year earlier.
"E-mail remains one of the killer apps on the Internet," said Brad Garlinghouse, AOL's senior vice president of consumer products, who ran Yahoo's e-mail until going to AOL last year. "We are recognizing we're not just in the e-mail business, we're in the communication business."