Facebook has its well-publicized downsides but at least you're not subjected to spam emails in your Facebook Messages inbox. Not yet anyway but that may be about to change.
Currently, under most circumstances, you only get inbox messages from your "friends," not counting the messages asking you to befriend someone. Messages that aren't from friends wind up in your "Other" box.
But now, Facebook says it's starting a "small experiment" today that will make use of "economic signals" to determine whether or not a message gets through to you.
In other words, those who are willing to pay will be able to put messages in your inbox, or at least to inboxes included in the test.
You think that sounds like an ad? Well, it does, sort of, but Facebook insists it has higher and more noble aspirations. Here's how Facebook explains it:
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.
Facebook cites a couple of examples: "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."
Of course, it's not hard to imagine that this little idea could quickly have us hearing unimportant messages from all kinds of people we'd rather never hear from, so maybe they'd have to pay a higher price?
Curious, I went into Facebook and took a look at the "other" folder, thinking perhaps I'd run across people who had heard me speaking or, you know, had always admired my reporting and wanted to include me in their will, or maybe send me one of those genius grants.
I found such specimens as these:
whats up James. you appear interesting. message me at email@example.com to get my best discreet pix
hi! I'm a female!!! I really enjoy your entire user profile!!! there's no doubt that it's fantastic. I have a number of private images. i'm dying to show you. u interested?
hey there James. you look good.
Well, so much for the theory that there is worthwhile mail languishing away in the Other box.
Follow the money
Just to be clear: the money -- oh sorry, economic signals -- that the sender pays to get into your inbox goes to Facebook, not to you. You know, sort of like Instagram's peachy idea of selling your photos to advertisers and keeping the money.
Facebook insists that the inbox toll is "only for personal messages between individuals in the U.S." and says that in the test, the number of paid messages a person can receive will be limited to one per week.
That's just for this test, of course, or as Facebook so eloquently puts it: "We’ll continue to iterate and evolve Facebook Messages over the coming months."
Well, that's fine, Facebook. We'll all be iterating and evolving too, unless something better comes along.