The ‘Other’ box for Facebook messages is a famously ill-reviewed feature, one which has spawned countless “Dude that girl from the bar six months ago messaged me that night, and I never saw it!” stories.
Any message that ends up in the Other box is likely to be ignored, assuming the recipient even knows the Other box exists. Now, Facebook is rolling out a small experiment in monetizing this power differential: they are beginning to charge US $1 for an upgrade to the real inbox. Pay a dollar, and that girl might just see your message after all.
Facebook’s statement on the matter is quite clear: “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.”
That’s the logic behind picking a US $1 fee; it’s high enough to deter mass spamming, but low enough to be convenient for their ideal user, who would only need it once or twice. Even if some corporation did decide to spend a dollar per recipient, a Facebook spokesperson was very clear that this feature is only available to individuals, not companies.
On the other hand, the Other box was designed specifically to filter out spam. For the most part it accomplishes this goal, but if Facebook has decided to use “economic incentives” to fix what is essentially an algorithmic problem. The dual discussions surrounding this experiment – of whether it is right, and whether it will work – are fun, but Facebook will ultimately make their decision based on data. If it works, in terms of better managing messages and making the company a lot of money, then the right-ness will likely be ignored entirely.