Facebook tests $1 fee for inbox access

The "small experiment" will let some people pay to have a message routed to the Inbox of someone they're not connected with, rather have it be banished to the Other folder.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
3 min read
Facebook's new Android Messenger lets people create an account with just their name and phone number. Facebook

A new revamp of Facebook Messages is pointing the way to let people buy access to your inbox on the social network.

In a "small experiment" starting today, Facebook said it'll be evaluating the "usefulness of economic signals" to determine what messages, from those with whom they have no connection, might be relevant to a given user.

"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," Facebook said in a blog post. And it gave a couple of examples of messages that might count as relevant and worth paying for:

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.

The cost to the sender, in this experiment: $1.

A Facebook spokesman said that the paid-message feature is being rolled out to a small percentage of users in the U.S. who will receive, at most, one of these messages per week. "Brands can't use this feature -- not at the moment," he said.

To further that message of reassurance, Facebook said that "several commentators and researchers" think a fee will keep unwanted messages out and encourage relevant messages.

But if this feature, similar to the way LinkedIn does its InMail service, proves to have legs, it could become a staple -- and another form of revenue for a now public company eager for more ways to make money.

Also today, Facebook said that it is fine-tuning the filters in Messages, its version of e-mail.

This revamp -- which goes nicely with the no-Facebook-account-necessary feature of the network's latest Android messaging app -- includes newly named filters for your Inbox. These determine if a message goes into your Inbox, the folder you usually see when you open up messages, or into the abyss, also known as the Other folder. The network is also testing a paid message feature.

Facebook's had some issues with its e-mail setup in the past. It was meant to be a sort of spam filter. Though most folks probably don't use it, anyone can send you a Facebook e-mail, even if they don't have a Facebook account. But when Facebook first rolled out the services, users were complaining that e-mails weren't making it to the right folders or weren't arriving at all. (Not to mention, Facebook synced its e-mail addresses with people's phones automatically, changing e-mails in people's address book and causing mayhem).

Facebook said its newly renamed filters will address this issue. Instead of setting your Inbox to receive messages from Friends, Friends of Friends, or Everyone, the new setting is called "Basic Filtering." Your in-network settings won't change, but taking away the specific restrictions -- only messages from Friends or from Friends of Friends -- allows Facebook to deliver you messages from people who aren't on Facebook without triggering the spam folder.

Similarly, the Friends setting will change to "Strict Filtering." You'll only get messages from your Facebook friends, and Facebook's algorithm -- which pays attention to who is in your network as well as which messages you choose to move to your inbox -- will help determine if the person sending you an e-mail from outside Facebook really is your friend.

The collective changes would also foster more communication within Facebook and opening up the lines of communication is how Facebook plans to gain more users.

Facebook Messages filtering
Setting filter preferences in Facebook Messages. Facebook