Facebook has officially laid to rest the Other inbox, that obscure second inbox that nobody really uses. Taking its place will be Message Requests, a new system that will allow people to send messages to Facebook users, even if they are not connected in any way.
Facebook Messenger chief David Marcus announced the new feature in a Facebook post, billing Message Requests as the company's alternative to phone numbers. With phone numbers, communication lines are more open between two people who don't really know each other, but privacy also takes a big hit, since there really is no stopping anyone who has your phone number from contacting you.
Message Requests, on the other hand, attempts at achieving balance between open communication and privacy. When someone you are not friends with sends you a Facebook message, it will show up as a Message Request. You can then choose to open that message and see some basic information about the sender, including his name, occupation and location, or you can swipe away to ignore the message, letting it land in a Filtered Requests folder where all other spammy messages are left to die in the cold.
And you don't have to deal with the social awkwardness of having opened a message and telling the other person at the other end that it has been opened, read and ignored. With Message Requests, the sender won't know if you saw the message, giving you more room to comfortably ignore messages you don't want to answer.
"The rule is pretty simple," says Marcus. "If you're friends on Facebook, if you have each other's contact info in your phone and have these synced, or if you have an existing open thread, the new messages from that sender will be routed to your inbox. Everything else will now be a message request, minus spam attempts that we will continue to ruthlessly combat."
The feature is particularly helpful for users who want to contact other people who aren't their friends, and don't intend to be friends with in the future, such as when you need to contact someone who left their wallet on the bus seat next to yours. Facebook has also been useful in reconnecting long-lost family members with one another, and Message Requests can more easily facilitate communication between them.
However, Facebook seems to be looking at this at a more business-centric angle, by allowing users to communicate with short-term business colleagues and companies or contractors they want to do business with. In fact, Facebook Messenger is already looking into this with the ability to connect users with home plumbers, electricians and other home contractors. For now, however, the newest change to Facebook Messenger will bring more opportunities for people to communicate with one another sans the phone number.