Facebook $1 fee? New scheme aims to make money, cut spam.

New from Facebook: $1 fee to send priority messages to people outside of your social contacts. This Facebook $1 fee feature isn't available outside of the US yet, but the social network could expand it if it proves popular.

Keith Bedford/Reuters
Facebook $1 fee? A monitor shows a welcoming message for Facebook's listing on the NASDAQ Marketsite prior to the opening bell in New York on May 18, 2012.

Cutting Facebook spam is great. But letting people pay to get priority seats in your inbox? That could be a dicier proposition.

Facebook announced a number of updates to its Messaging platform on Thursday, but the most interesting news was something the company called a “small experiment”: giving a select group of Facebook users the ability to pay a small fee to have a message delivered to the inbox of someone outside their circle of friends. The cost to do so? $1, reports the Wall Street Journal.

A little context: right now, you can send messages to anyone on Facebook, regardless of whether you’re friends with that person or not. But pretty soon the social network will begin automatically capturing mail from unknown people (those who aren’t friends or friends of friends) before it reaches the inbox, filtering it into a catch-all “Other” folder.

The upshot of this plan is that messages that you see in your inbox are more likely to be from people you actually know. The downside is that the filters make it more difficult to reach people you aren’t already friends with. If you were to contact a company’s HR representative about a job opening, for example, your message would likely get shunted to the “Other” folder, where it would be less likely to be seen.

The reason for this test, Facebook says, is to make it more likely that a message in your inbox is from someone who has a legitimate reason to contact you. In the company’s words, it wants “to test the usefulness of economic signals to determine relevance.” The announcement adds 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.”

For now, the company says, this pay-for-relevance service is limited to only one message per week, and is usable only by selected individuals -- not brands -- in the US. Facebook says it will continue tinkering with prices, too, to see what works best for users. You probably don’t need to worry about a draconian future in which you’re charged for all Facebook communications -- but it’s no stretch to speculate that the company could expand the service if it proves to be useful (or profitable). LinkedIn already has a similar model in place with its InMail service -- InMail costs money to send, which bestows extra credibility on its messages and (hopefully) confers extra cachet on the senders.

What do you think about paid Facebook messages? Would it be useful, or does such a service offer too much room for abuse? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more tech news, follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffwardbailey.

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