Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Facebook Opens Up Your Inbox to Outsiders, for a Fee

mail moneyWant to send me a Facebook message? But you’re not my Facebook friend?

Pay up.

The social network is overhauling its in-house messaging system with a new set of filters that it says will help users reach out and “Poke” each other more effectively; you can see details here. Part of the overhaul: A test that will allow some users to ping people they’re not friends with, if they’re willing to spend a dollar.

Facebook says the changes are primarily designed to let Facebook users who already know each other make sure their missives connect. But the most interesting part of the move is what the social network is calling a “a small experiment to test the usefulness of economic signals.”

Here’s how it will work: A limited number of U.S. Facebook users will now have the ability to pay Facebook a fee to send a message to other U.S. Facebook users who they don’t know. Facebook isn’t spelling out the cost publicly, but people familiar with the company’s plans say it will start at a dollar a message, and Facebook will tinker with the fee over time. The option will only be available to individual users — not marketers and brands — and Facebook will only allow users to receive a single paid message per week. But users can’t opt not to receive paid messages.

Here’s Facebook’s rationale for the move:

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.

Glass-half-empty translation: Facebook is selling access to your inbox — which you previously could have kept closed to anyone you don’t know — to the outside world.

Glass-half-full version: Maybe you do want to hear from those people! And the one-message-a-week cap, combined with the $1 fee, will prevent your inbox from filling up with spam.

In the wake of Facebook’s botched IPO, the company has been working very hard to show Wall Street that it has the ability to generate revenue from all sorts of streams it hadn’t previously tapped — mobile ads, for instance, as well as gifts, and maybe-but-not-quite-yet, an ad network.

But at first blush this doesn’t seem like it belongs in that category. At least not with the restrictions the company is placing on this initial test: If Coke wants to get my attention on the social network, Facebook has an ever-expanding series of ad options it wants to sell them.

Meanwhile, if anyone can figure out how to make pay-to-play work for my real-world inbox — which spam has rendered just about useless — I’m all ears.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Fussypony)


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