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Facebook Messages, the company’s long-promised answer to email, now actually looks and functions a lot more like a typical inbox.

The social network today launched a new version of Messages with cosmetic and under-the-hood improvements designed to make a person’s Facebook inbox a more appropriate place for speedy web and mobile exchanges.

With the new version of Messages, Facebook has made it clear that intends to make the product a full-fledged replacement for email.

“We know how to scale email,” Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure Jay Parikh said in a meeting with the press today. “This is a scaling problem that’s well understood for two decades now. From a perspective of comparing that to what we’re doing, you’ll see that we’ve had to innovate around how to make that real-time and dynamic for our users.”

Messages now sports a two-paned layout. The inbox lists all messages on the left while simultaneously showing a full view of selected conversation threads on the right (as pictured below). People can also add multiple photos and emoticons to messages.

And, just like Gmail and other popular email clients, you can now use keyboard shortcuts to navigate through the inbox. Facebook also lets you search by a sender’s name or keyword from the main messages view.

A small team of Facebook engineers also worked to dramatically improve the reliability, flexibility, and speed of Messages.

“With this update, it works a lot faster, it’s easier to consume things quickly. We’re trying to make everything fast,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Photo credit: zilverbat./Flickr

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