In addition to Facebook-owned Instagram threatening to use shared photos in advertisements, and talk that Facebook itself may open the doors to 15-second video commercials in news feeds, the social network has announced that an experimental feature is underway that allows strangers to pay for delivering their virtual letter to your Facebook Messages Inbox.
"Today we’re starting a small experiment to test the usefulness of economic signals to determine relevance," the company said. "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."
According to Facebook, the idea is to discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful. The current test is designed to address situations where neither social nor algorithmic signals are sufficient.
Typically the Facebook Messages service relies on two "signals" that tell the system where a message needs ot go: into the Inbox or into the Other folder. Social signals such as friend connections go straight to the Inbox whereas algorithmic signals filter out spam based on friend of friend connections, people the user might know, and so on.
Now there's a new economic signal that will essentially allow a message to be sent straight to a recipient's Inbox if the sender coughs up a whole dollar per message. "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," the company said. "For the receiver, this test allows them to hear from people who have an important message to send them."
Facebook said this new routing feature is only for personal messages between individuals here in the States. The number of messages a sender can have moved from the Other folder to the Inbox is one per person per week... at least for now.
In addition to the paid service, Facebook has also added two new filters to help sort the incoming messages: Basic and Strict. With Basic selected, users will see mostly messages from friends and people they may know (formerly "Everyone"). The Strict filter only allows messages from friends (formerly "Friends"). Users of Messenger for Android – who don't have a Facebook account – can still send a message to someone with the Basic filter on.
"If you see a message from someone you don't want to hear from in your Inbox, you can always select 'Move to Other' or 'Report Spam' from the Actions menu," Facebook said. "You can also block people that you don’t want to hear from on Facebook."
Facebook has seemingly become the next America Online, only on a global scale. Like the popular online Internet network of the late 90s, Facebook has become a networking service with its own email system, chat client, internal web sites, games and more. What's missing is a dial-up connection, an integrated web browser, and a monthly subscription model.