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Facebook ramps up paid messaging trials, offers access to celebrity inboxes for a fee

Facebook calls itself a social network, but before long you may need to pony up some cash to get social with people outside of your immediate circle of friends.

The service recently expanded testing of a "feature" that gives users the capability to pay to send messages to the inboxes of celebrities and anyone else they aren't currently Friends with. The charges have been being tested worldwide for months now, but the latest trial was rolled out to a full 10 percent of U.K users at the end of last March, when Facebook started charging up to $17 to message the likes of Olympic swimmer Tom Daley and Snoop Dog. Average people and D-list celebrities can be reached for roughly $1.

Facebook inboxes explained

Facebook’s messaging service has two inboxes: The first is your main inbox, where you see messages from people you are directly connected with. But when you actually click through your Facebook inbox, you also see another inbox, called "Other," where messages from people you’re not connected to on Facebook show up. You don’t receive any notifications about messages that land in your Other inbox.

Your second "Other" inbox is where Facebook explores an opportunity to make money. The initiative first appeared last December, when an update to its messaging system offered a small set of U.S. users the opportunity to pay $1 per message in order to bump messages to strangers from the "Other" inbox—which users rarely check—to the inbox proper.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Then, in January, Facebook began testing a $100 fee to message the inboxes of CEO Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandburg, and CFO David Ebersman.

A Facebook spokesperson told U.K. newspaper The Guardian: “We are testing a number of price points in the UK and other countries to establish the optimal fee that signals importance. This is still a test and these prices are not set in stone." However, the various price points are “not a sliding scale based on fame. You can't infer someone's level of 'celebrity' from the numbers," the social network added.

Good for users or good for Facebook?

While Facebook insists that this system is designed to prevent spam, Facebook’s initiative will no doubt prove controversial. In fact, by giving everyday users a way to leap out of the exile of the Other and into a stranger's main inbox, the new system may very well irritate (and alienate) celebrities.

The system may also stymie everyday users. The social network previously emphasized that it want its messaging system and @facebook.com addresses to rival traditional email services. But an inbox where you get messages and notification only from people you know, while messages from outside your circles are relegated to another inbox—unless paid for—is not the future of email.

It may just symbolize the future of Facebook, however. The now-public company has to monetize its members to keep its stockholders happy. Premium-priced inbox access fits that need like a glove.

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