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Would you pay $100 to send a message to Mark Zuckerberg's Inbox?

Facebook is testing a $100 charge to push messages to strangers' inbox, bypassing the "Other" folder for spam and messages from non-contacts.
January 12, 2013
Mark Zuckerberg Facebook paid inbox

This is a novel approach to spam: put a price tag for each message sent to a person you don’t know. At least that’s what Facebook wants to test. If implemented, besides being a spam deterrent, this method can also be a way to monetize Facebook messaging.

Facebook is free, and users are charged nothing to use the service. However, this does not preclude Facebook from monetizing your account through  the likes of paid ads or partnerships. In short, the adage is true: if you’re not paying for the product, then the product is you.

Charging messages to persons who are not in a person’s friends list can be one way for the social networking site to leverage on their services. Facebook has actually been testing a system for charging senders to push a message straight to your inbox.

The experiment

It started out as a $100 per-message fee to Mark Zuckerberg if you were not connected to him via Facebook. This looked like a good account as a test subject for the experiment. As part of the experiment, each account now has an “Other” folder, where messages from people not on the friends list end up. The listing on this Other box was implemented retroactively. Old messages like random mail, spam or invites, will be placed there. For some obscure reason, it remains grayed out, but accessible, to the user.

The experiment soon escalated as the plan was to implement this to every Facebook account, not just to Zuck’s. The $100 seems to be just a test, as it will be hard to put a price for this service. Ultimately, the pricing will depend on market forces. How much should a random message be charged? At what price point will spam stop or top off? What price do marketers want to pay to send sales messages straight to your inbox, rather than the dreaded obscure Other box?

Like other websites that provide a service and help people connect and communicate with one another, Facebook has implemented anti-spam and privacy protection measures. For messages, it has algorithms to detect possible spam. However, the cost of delivering and storing unwanted messages does take a toll on the company.

Facebook has since taken some flak from technology media and industry analysts, as well as from other social networking sites. The feature has since been stopped, and senders are no longer charged for their delivery to unknown or unconnected recipients. It is expected that Facebook will roll out other experiments to find ways to curb spam, and to improve the user experience.

Facebook is free for users, but …

Facebook is not just a social networking site, but it is also a huge database of prospects for possible contacts. According to sources, there are about 1 billion active accounts on Facebook. Even charging one cent for each message, and each of those accounts receiving one message a day, that could mean $10 million dollars of revenue per day for Facebook, or $3.65 billion annually. Forecasting these figures would have to take into account the behavior of those using Facebook. Some users would think that this is outright exploitation, even if it were included in the terms and conditions of use.

The latest news is that Facebook no longer charges for unsolicited messages. Users can again send a message to Mark Zuckerberg, or anyone outside of their friends list, without any charges. But there’s no assurance that these will reach their inbox, and your message might be languishing in their Other folders for a long time.

The question now is this: knowing that Facebook is not going to give you a cut of their earnings from paid inbox messages (other than the fact that you still get to use Facebook free), are you willing to set a price for delivering messages to your inbox?

Conversely, for business owners and entrepreneurs, is there value in paying to push messages to a user’s inbox?