Sometimes you need to message a non-friend, and today Facebook starts testing if it can make a little money and cut spam by asking you to pay to ensure the recipient sees it. Facebook’s also changing everyone’s privacy settings into dynamic filters that let “relevant” messages through. These moves address Facebook’s old settings that caused important messages to sometimes end up unseen.
Previously, Facebook’s messaging privacy settings were cut and dry. You set your inbox to allow messages from everyone, friends of friends, or friends only. Any sender that didn’t qualify had their messages dumped in the “Other Inbox”, a little known sub-tab of the Inbox that most people rarely checked if ever. I had a friend who actually got a Facebook Message from a long-lost brother from the other side of the world but didn’t see it for six months because he wasn’t a friend of a friend.
Facebook’s trying to rectify this situation, and also make room for the new revenue stream it’s testing by replacing these hard settings with softer filters.
If you were set to accept messages from friends of friends or everyone, you’ll now have the “Basic Filtering” which means you’ll mostly see messages from friends and people you may know in you main Inbox. If you had restricted your Inbox to friends only, you’ll be switched onto the Strict Filtering which means you’ll mostly see messages from friends.
You’ll notice the word “mostly” in there. That’s gives Facebook the freedom to deliver messages to your main Inbox even if they’re from outside your preferred categories of senders if it thinks they’re highly relevant. For example, if you have the Strict Filtering setting and are in a group message thread with three friends and one non-friend, Facebook might allow that non-friend to reach your main Inbox because there’s a high likelihood you want to see their message.
The new filters help out with the new version of Facebook Messenger For Android that allows signups from people without Facebook accounts. If a non-Facebook user that has your phone number in their address book tries to message you, Facebook might let that through.
These filters also permit Facebook’s new paid messaging system that it begins testing today with a very small percentage of users in the United States. The idea is that by letting people pay $1 or some other small fee, Facebook knows a message is important to the sender. The price also theoretically deters spam because conversion rates on spam messages are so low that having to pay to deliver them makes it very tough to earn money. Facebook is also capping the number of paid messages you can receive per week at one for now to reduce the potential for abuse.
Facebook explains that “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.”
Some users will surely be annoyed by both changes. Most people don’t want Facebook meddling with their privacy settings without express consent. Others will likely be angry that anyone with some money to spare can pester them with Messages. In the end, these settings might actually help people with strict privacy settings see important messages, and reduce spam for people with relaxed settings, but we’ll have to wait and see what their impact is, and whether users are able to see their value through the fear.