Thursday, December 20, 2012

What is Facebook really doing with its $1 inbox payments?

Before the tempest hits the teapot, let's allow Facebook to have its say on its new experiment:

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.

This message routing feature is only for personal messages between individuals in the U.S. In this test, the number of messages a person can have routed from their Other folder to their Inbox will be limited to a maximum of one per week.

We’ll continue to iterate and evolve Facebook Messages over the coming months.

Now remember what this does. All it does is move a message from the "Other" box to the Inbox, provided that the maximum routing limits haven't already been exceeded.

This does not allow people to pay a dollar to send you a message; they can already do that. Even though Mark Zuckerberg is not my Facebook friend, I can send him a message right now. And there is a chance that my message may go into his inbox without my paying $1 to him. If my message mentions Robert Scoble (a mutual friend) or includes certain words such as "hoodie" or "billion," the message may pass the social or algorithmic filters and end up in his inbox.

Let's hope so, because I'm sure that Zuckerberg will get more than one request per week to move a message to his inbox, so it will be hard to pay $1 to get a message into his inbox.

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