The world's largest social network has spent the past several months tweaking and honing its messaging service, and now Facebook is testing a feature that would allow users to directly message users to whom they are not connected, so long as they pay a fee. In a blog post announcing new inbox filtering features, Facebook also tipped that it was conducting a small experiment to "test the usefulness of economic signals to determine relevance." In short, the feature would give some users the option to pay to have a message routed directly to the inbox of a user with whom they are not friends, whereas otherwise the message would go to the user's Other folder.
Facebook says the feature may be the most effective means of discouraging spam messages, citing research and commentary that claims "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."
By way of example, Facebook cites a hypothetical user that wants to send a message to someone she saw speak at an event, but with whom she is not friends. That user would have the option of paying a small fee, possibly as low as $1 according to some media outlets, in order to have the message delivered directly to the other user's inbox.
The blog post says the feature could allow users to "hear from people who have an important message to send them." Currently the feature is only for personal messages between individuals in the US. Users participating in the test can only have one message per week routed from their Other folder to their inbox.
In addition to the paid messaging test, Facebook rolled out two new options for inbox filtering. The first is a basic filtering option, in which users will see mostly messages from friends and friends of friends. The other option is strict filtering, in which users will mostly see messages only from friends in their inbox.
Facebook has been attempting to leverage the ubiquity of its messaging service into becoming a dominant player in the communications sector. Earlier this month, the company rolled out Facebook Messenger for Firefox, which relies on Firefox's Social API to build Messenger connectivity directly into the browser. The next day, the social network announced that it was expanding Messenger eligibility to allow new users to sign up for the service even if they don't have a Facebook account.