Every so often, a hoax message circulates on Facebook, warning in a dire fashion that the free social network will start charging for services.
Facebook promises it will always remain free of charge. But an announcement Thursday had users scratching their heads.
Tucked into a blog post about streamlining messages and adding new message filters, Facebook announced it was testing a new system--a fee-based one--for determining whether or not a message gets delivered to your inbox, or shuffled off to an often forgotten "other" folder.
For users in the same network, messages will be delivered as normal. But for users on separate networks, a one-time, $1 fee would guarantee the message would show up in the inbox. Recipients would be able to block unwanted messages afterwards, but otherwise the sender would be able to send unlimited messages to the recipient's inbox.
Facebook is posing the test as an attempt to crack down on spam messaging. But to users, the trial looks more like a chance to finally open up a revenue stream that doesn't directly involve advertising.
And Mashable explains that it could work opposite it's stated intention: "It seems just as likely that it could lead to an increase spam, as anyone from a marketer to your ex-girlfriend could potentially use the option to flood your inbox with unwanted messages."
Regardless, the test will only come to a small number of users, and it is just a test--for now.
Facebook Messages is designed to get the most relevant messages into your Inbox and put less relevant messages into your Other folder. We rely on signals about the message to achieve this goal.
Some of these signals are social – we use social signals such as friend connections to determine whether a message is likely to be one you want to see in your Inbox.
Some of these signals are algorithmic – we use algorithms to identify spam and use broader signals from the social graph, such as friend of friend connections or people you may know, to help determine relevance.
Today we’re starting a small experiment to test the usefulness of economic signals to determine relevance. This test will give a small number of people the option to pay to have a message routed to the Inbox rather than the Other folder of a recipient that they are not connected with.
Several commentators and researchers have noted that imposing a financial cost on the sender may be the most effective way to discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful.
This test is designed to address situations where neither social nor algorithmic signals are sufficient. For example, if you want to send a message to someone you heard speak at an event but are not friends with, or if you want to message someone about a job opportunity, you can use this feature to reach their Inbox. For the receiver, this test allows them to hear from people who have an important message to send them.