Facebook Message “seen” feature could create awkward situations


Facebook is trying to make mobile messaging more conversational with some changes it’s been rolling out this past month, but one of those could lead to some awkward moments between you and your friends.

Among the new Facebook messaging features that are on its iOS and Android apps are a new, more visible real-time typing indicator and a feature that shows you where your friends are messaging you from, a spokeswoman for the company said. The features, she added, are especially meant to improve group messages.

But the social network is also giving your friends one more new feature, and that’s the ability to see whether you’ve seen their message.


“Knowing when your friends see your messages means you no longer to have to wonder if a message you’ve sent was received and is a lightweight way to make your messages more conversational,” a spokeswoman for the company said.

And while that may be true and quite helpful for group message situations in which having everyone reply just ends up making your phone rock out with notifications and vibrations, it might not be the best for one-on-one situations.

At least in my life, there are many times when people message me on Facebook and I can’t immediately reply. That’s because my phone always shows me when I receive a message, and sometimes those messages are short like text messages or long like emails -- which is how Facebook wants its message system to be used.

But that leads to situations where I can’t respond right away. Longer messages usually require longer responses that take more time, so responding immediately isn’t likely. Likewise, short messages usually require quick responses, which may be easy for the person on a computer on one end but not so for someone on a cellphone on the other end. So in both cases, you can easily end up in situations where you look at the message, your friends sees that you have, and then they could be left hanging, wondering why despite reading the message you don’t respond.

Facebook, though, is quick to point out that the feature -- which also appears to be making its way onto the non-mobile site -- is also used by other companies and services.

The Menlo Park, Calif., tech company offered Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Messenger as an example.

And sure, RIM has shown its users both when their messages have been delivered as well as read for a long time, but those were messages that were always intended to be short, like text messages, and could be replied to easily.

And Facebook isn’t the first social network to apply these read receipts. MySpace, back in the day, also would show you when someone had read your message. But, again unlike Facebook, MySpace always had read receipts with its messaging system, so users knew what they were getting into from the get-go.

And most recently, Apple adopted a feature into its message app last year that shows when a message is “delivered,” but that system avoids awkwardness by simply reassuring the sender that the message was sent, not necessarily read.

So whether this new Facebook “seen” feature is welcomed by users remains to be, well, seen, but the way Facebook is going about it -- it’s rolling out the features over time, not to everyone at once -- it could create sticky situations for its users and more trouble for the company.


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