Facebook messaging changes could let paid advertisements into users' inboxes

Facebook today announced a trial that could let paid advertisers directly message users' in-boxes, which have traditionally been held for messages from friends.

The move is seen as the latest effort by the company to monetize its hugely popular social network, which now includes more than 1 billion active monthly users globally.

"This test will give a small number of people the option to pay to have a message routed to the Inbox," Facebook says in a post announcing the news.

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The news is part of a broader set of changes Facebook made to its messaging platform today, including new privacy settings. Users can now choose from two message settings, basic or strict. In the basic settings, friends, friends of friends and Android Messenger users who do not have a Facebook account can message users to their in-box. A "strict" allows the user to select who they can receive a message from.

Facebook's messages are broken into two categories, the in-box and an "other" folder. The messaging platform is designed to "get the most relevant messages into your in-box and put less relevant messages into your other folder." Facebook uses algorithms to determine relevance and where the message should be placed, for example, whether the sender is a friend, friend of a friend, or spammer.

With the introduction of paid messages though, people who are not in any way connected to a user's social network can pay to send a message to someone. "Today we're starting a small experiment to test the usefulness of economic signals to determine relevance," Facebook says. "Several commentators and researchers have noted that imposing 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.

Paid messages seem akin to an advertisement, but Facebook says it envisions other scenarios as well. "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," Facebook writes.

The feature is limited to person-to-person messages, meaning that Facebook business pages and accounts are not able to utilize this service. Paid messages are also limited to one per week to users involved in the trial.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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