It would appear that one of the early dreams of social media -- making it possible to meet anyone, virtually, online -- is dead. Or more precisely, the dream is still alive; it will just cost you a buck.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has begun testing a system that allows members to send messages to people they don’t know (i.e., people not include in their immediate social network) for $1. The payment allows the user to send the message to a stranger’s personal Inbox, rather than having it relegated to the seldom-checked Other folder, which many members basically use as a SPAM basket.
It’s pretty easy to imagine who is going to use the new service: marketers, and maybe some desperate singles looking for love. Either way, it doesn’t exactly seem like an enhancement of the Facebook user experience. And the rationale presented by Facebook is a little, well, Orwellian. You see, it’s actually all about decreasing the number of irrelevant messages that are sent on the network: “[I]mposing 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.” Never mind that they are getting paid, and that the irrelevant messages now go to your Inbox instead of your SPAM folder; it’s actually making things better.
Compared to a lot of other folks, I think I have been pretty relaxed about Facebook’s, erm, many “innovations” with an eye to making money. After all, it’s a for-profit company, the terms of service are there for all to see, we all signed up voluntarily, and we can all quit anytime we like. That said, between the paid messages and the earlier launch of a service that allows you to pay to promote your posts, I’m starting to wonder whether the world’s dominant social network is finally going to screw the pooch.
Of course Facebook is allowed to charge advertisers for communicating with its members -- but this would appear to be openly disregarding the wishes of users trying to block unwanted messages. To my mind, that risks some serious blowback against both Facebook and any brand marketers which use the service. Or am I too dire in my predictions?