Milton Friedman once told that Free Market Principles depend on, well, nothing being free. (Well, it was some old bloke who looked like Milton Friedman. College. Whatever.)
But the Facebooks of this world seem resolute in refusing to believe that people might decide that if it cost nothing then it can't have been worth anything.
So, and it pains me to utter these words, but what would happen if Facebook led the charging?
What if they created normal, ordinary membership, then, you know, a gradation of colors? Like credit card companies. Where platinum stands for 'person living far beyond their means, but still earning money so they'll make the minimum payments and, hey, you never know, their stock options might kick in.'
And Black for 'I may not pay my bill on time, but why should I have to? I'm richer than you'.
Wouldn't that be more real world rather than Real World?
The status benefits would, naturally, have to be of a kind that Facebookers would really appreciate.
So what if you paid $100 a year for Facebook Green?
That would guarantee you Friend Status with one Division One college athlete, a secondary actor/actress in an independent movie and the Senior Manager of a significant financial institution.
If you coughed up, say, the $400 a year to be Facebook Gold, they would guarantee you could be Friends with two B-list movie and TV stars (which would include Luke Wilson, but not Owen. Cokie Roberts, but not Julia), one retired sports hero, one current sports hero and the Senior Vice-President of a significant financial institution.
For the $1000 a year of Facebook Platinum, you could, firstly, CHOOSE your friends. (Oh, didn't we mention when you joined? We choose your Friends in Green and Gold.)
You would also get all of the Gold privileges. PLUS two A-list movie and TV stars, three current sports heroes (convicted felons would be excluded, but those yet to stand trial are still capable of experiencing Friendship), three Senior members of your chosen political party, and most importantly, all the members of your two favorite bands (the only exclusions here, for obvious reasons, would be the members of Metallica and Simon and Garfunkel).
The $20,000 Facebook Black. Well, what would you expect? All of the Facebook Platinum privileges, of course.
But, in addition, the precious and rare commodity of Lifetime Friendship with Jon Voight, Joe Lieberman, Keith Olbermann, John Lydon and Lindsay Lohan; the guarantee of one business deal with your favorite financial institution (Bear Stearns, for example); the ability to record a song with your favorite Friended band or singer (yes, you and Mariah Carey. Or Mary Carey, if you prefer her singing); your favorite Friended product would release a special personalized version of the product featuring your name (wouldn't everyone want a can of Heineken Bryan?); and, most prized, your own personalized Werewolves, Friends For Sale and PimpFights, designed by the good folks at Marvel.
Wouldn't these status levels be a truer reflection of society? Surely you separate your friends into various levels: Drinks Friends, Dinner Friends, Drunk Friends, Friends You Want Something From, Friends Who Want Something From You And You Like That.
In addition, this new and exciting revenue stream would take some pressure away from the need to monetize through advertising.
It's a win-win, as really good friends would say to each other.