Facebook has made some changes in its messaging system that involve fees. As Facebook announced last week via a blog post, for $1, select users can send a message to someone who is not their friend. That is, you can pay Facebook $1 for what you can do for free using email, provided you have the person’s email address.
The social media company’s rationale for what is essentially a paid email service is that the fee will “discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful.” Would-be spammers would therefore not be able to stuff the inboxes tens of thousands with messages; if they did, these would end up in users’ “other” inbox rather than in their main one.
If this plan seems to be yet another way for Facebook to make revenue from its users, it is. CNET‘s Donna Tam sums up the matter in view of Facebook’s much-hyped and then much-ballyhooed IPO:
Facebook, which began the year with a reputation for caring more about its users than about making a buck, is ending the year with the rollout of yet another way to try to squeeze more money from its members.
As Tam notes, Facebook is likely to drop the $1 fee if no one uses it. But she also thinks that Facebook is up to something more with this “test.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg and company certainly have reason, and need, to prove to Wall Street that they are “building a cash-generating empire” and are therefore trying to figure out “more ways to add revenue streams not tied to advertising and, importantly, is trying to get more user credit cards on file” — credit card numbers being a type of personal data that Facebook has relatively few of from its legions of members and certainly in contrast to Amazon and Apple, Tam points out.
One more sign of Facebook being in a revenue-generating frame of mind is that it does not accept Paypal for Facebook Gifts, its program through which users can send wine, clothes, etc. to other members. A credit card is necessary to use the program. Once you’ve entered it, Facebook keeps that data on file.
Along with the recent outrage after Instagram made and then (kinda) withdrew its plan to utilize its users’ photos for third-party advertising, Facebook’s latest change is a reminder that “free” social media services come with strings attached, especially in the area of privacy. It also raises the question of how free Facebook (and other social media sites, like Pinterest) can remain as users keep adding photos, videos, random thoughts and untold gazillions of items onto their accounts.
As Facebook has grown and tried out and added so many new features, each seemingly designed to collect more details about our lives, I’ve felt increasingly disinclined towards it. The main reason I check Facebook is that many of my friends use it to communicate and I want to stay in touch. I post links and look for friends’ updates and photos of their kids but prefer “old-fashioned” email. If Facebook did charge fees to use its basic services, I would close up my account.
CNET’s Jim Kerstetter predicts, “Facebook will continue to tick us off and we will continue to love it” in his five big tech stories in 2013, and this end of the year trial of pay-for-messages-to-those-you-aren’t-friends-with is very likely just the start. Facebook must be banking that some of its money-making features will catch on; that enough users will use them; that it can weather criticism (including Business Week giving Zuckerberg a runner-up spot on its worst CEOS of 2012 list). Facebook has just wound its way too deeply into our lives.
Would you pay to use any features on Facebook?
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