Facebook Launches One-Way Inbox API. Woo hoo.

Facebook is certainly pumping on all cylinders this week. Yesterday came news that the site had acquired FriendFeed, and this morning it proposed a new Terms of Service. Now Facebook has announced some additions to its API, including a new Inbox API and support for Notifications in third party apps.

The biggest addition — the Inbox API — is also disappointing because it only lets users receive messages, not send them. Facebook’s mail product has long been a sore spot for the site, though it has been slowly making some improvements (an overhauled version is currently in beta testing — we can’t wait). But aside from UI issues, there has always been the annoying fact that Facebook messages don’t work like true Email, as there is no way to handle your messages outside of Facebook itself. The new API is supposed to help change this.

Developers will now be able to tap into Facebook Inbox though the new API, giving them the ability to pull in a user’s Facebook messages. This means that you could conceivably use a desktop mail client to browse through your Facebook Mail. But because Facebook has only gone half way, developers have no way to send messages from their applications, which means users will have to log on to the site if they ever wish to send out a response. Facebook writes that “while we currently don’t allow applications to send messages through this API, we’re always thinking about new functionality to offer through Facebook Platform.” Lame.

The absence of a send function could possibly be attributed to the site wanting to gradually roll out the new API in multiple steps, which would be reasonable, if not a bit frustrating. But if we don’t see a send function included soon, it will be yet another knock against Facebook’s supposed openness.

Other new additions include a Notifications API, which gives developers access to the brief updates that typically show up in the bottom right hand corner of the Facebook homepage. Finally, the site is allowing developers to include application attachments in outgoing Facebook messages. They’ve been able to do this before, but the site now uses a more current API technique.

Update: Facebook has changed the name of the API to “Inbox” rather than “Mailbox”.
Image by satguru.