Facebook Monetizes Friendships

Facebook Thinks It Knows Your Friends Better Than You Do

In Facebook’s private messaging system, there are four folders: Inbox, Other, Spam, and Archived. We all know about the Inbox – that’s the one we all see when sending and receiving private messages. That is where chat messages go, when we’re offline. Spam, presumably, contains the obvious “electronic junk mail,” but what about the mysterious Other and the never-seen Archived? First, it helps to understand that Facebook apparently uses terms like “Spam” and “Archived” differently from the rest of us. Here’s my best guess as to how it works:

Inbox is where all private and chat messages go, unless they don’t. This is the folder all Facebook members seem to know about. In fact, it is the only messaging folder most seem to know about, if you ask them.

Other is the dungeon to which random messages from distant friends and Facebook Pages go, unless – IF provided the opportunity to do so – they agree to pay Facebook the demanded ransom (which I’m told varies in amount) to have their messages delivered directly to Inbox. Extortion might be too strong a word, unless you consider “Pay us to deliver this to your friend’s Inbox or be labeled a heinous spammer and have your message shoved in a dark hole where it will never see the light of day” a threat. In which case, I think the argument could be made. At least one person assumed that Other was an April Fool’s Day joke. I wish it were:

Facebook "Extortion"

Spam contains a tiny number of group-mail messages touting spurious iPhone giveaways. Spam is evidence that Facebook may have tried automated spam filtering, once, but gave up upon realizing there might be more money in monetizing friendships than in effectively eliminating spam. It may also be that conversations you report as Spam/Abuse end up here while Facebook investigates, but the sample size is too small and random to say that with assurance.

Archived is…weird and useless, unless you just like to keep a tidy and forgettable backup of Facebook private messages.

Where to find all these things? They are hidden in plain sight, believe it or not. Other is just to the right of Inbox. If you click More, you’ll see Unread, Archived, and Spam. It’s amazing how blind we are to the greyed out options in our lives:

Facebook Private Messaging Folders

Presumably, the only time Archived is useful is when you choose to Archive a conversation, using the Actions menu:

Facebook Messaging Actions

You could also use Actions to mark a conversation as Spam or Other.

What is in Your Other Folder?

People who don’t know about Other are often surprised at what they find, when they learn of its existence. Go, check now, and let me know if you found anything interesting there. My friend, Gloson Teh, wrote, “I checked my ‘Other’ inbox and turns out I missed a message from a girl who wants help publishing her joke book from over a year ago x(”

Others have found job offers (too late).

About the only thing I could find on this weird “feature” of Facebook was the following:

Messages you send to someone you’re not connected to on Facebook may arrive in their Other folder. You may have the option of paying to route these messages to their inbox. When this delivery option is available, you’ll see the price beneath your message.

Because we limit the number of messages a person can receive in their inbox from people they’re not connected to, you may not always have this delivery option.

Note the “may arrive in their Other folder.” Or may not. You may or may not get an option to pay for placement. We may just randomly send you off to Facebook Re-education Camp. (That is a special hell-hole in and of itself. Unfortunately, I forgot to get screenshots last time I was there. But never fear, at this rate, it won’t be long before I’m singing the Jailhouse Rock and banging my tin can against the bars, again!)

Now, if it weren’t for this “pay to play” option, I might give Facebook some credit here – Other is largely what we’d expect from automated spam filtering, and is probably on a par with GMail’s. I appreciate Facebook’s attempt to act in loco parentis, sitting on the front porch, shotgun loaded, consigning would-be suitors and 419 scammers straight to oblivion.  Seriously, my Other is full of mash notes from guys who are “entangled in my sparkling smile” and wouldn’t “trade my unbeaten beauty for anything in this world.” Apparently, Facebook is experimenting somewhere in marketing itself as an online dating site – presumably for lonely Russian sailors, businessmen in the U.K., and Barristers in Nigeria.

Or, Facebook Doesn’t Get to Define My Friendships

If it weren’t for the fact that Facebook actively encourages connections with “People you might know” and “Mutual friends,” it wouldn’t irk me so much when they throw me into Facebook Jail for a week for inviting “too many friends, too fast” from Facebook Groups I’ve joined. Or for inviting my fourth grade church choir buddy to be my Facebook Friend – of course she has no idea who I am, under my married name, and if Facebook refuses to deliver my notes to her unless I pay them $1, I’m going to keep going to Facebook Jail and singing the Social Media Blues. I am not a spammer. I don’t connect with people indiscriminately. And Facebook does not get to define for me who I will and will not keep in touch with, or whose communications I find more valuable than others. I am an adult; I can do that for myself.

Perhaps if they took a different approach – the one they did with founder Mark Zuckerburg – and let us choose which friends we wanted to hear from, for a price. Apparently, at $100 a pop, Mark wasn’t getting much mail – and ironically, a test message I just sent him (to get the screen capture so I could show you, and not have to send you off to Mashable) actually went through. Hey, Mark! Hope you’re reading this! ::waves!!:: But see http://mashable.com/2013/01/11/facebook-message-mark-zuckerberg/What if we got to choose who to charge for sending us emails, and what if Facebook only got a 10-15% cut? Would you let advertisers send you messages – for a price?

I think that might be fair, but I’m not about to let Facebook profit from personal messages to real friends, even as the USPS struggles to stay in business and continue Saturday deliveries. GMail and Hotmail are free, and I’d rather spend my $1 writing real letters and postcards. Anyone care for an anachronistic friendship? I’m feeling rebellious today.



Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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18 thoughts on “Facebook Monetizes Friendships”

  1. I’ve resisted going on Facebook. After reading your post, I am still holding out.

  2. Successive, irritating changes on Facebook have persuaded me to reduce the time I spend on it considerably, this latest one might convince me to wean myself off it completely.

    Thanks for explaining the new message system so well Holly, I had noticed something strange happening with messages, but had not taken the trouble to investigate.

    Long live twitter, Linked In, Google+ for Social Media and of course email and the telephone for private messages.
    Peter Wright recently posted…Obligations, Choices and Spring CommitmentsMy Profile

  3. Hi Holly,

    I knew about the ‘other’ message thing, but there is nothing there now and usually only crazy stuff. I’ve never seen the ‘pay for message to be sent’ thing, but that is crazy. I wouldn’t pay for a message. If it is important, I would hope I would be contacted another way.

    Great post and thanks for sharing. Sally
    sally brown recently posted…Kindness – Give It Up!My Profile

  4. This content is really interesting to me because I love Facebook and I have a funny moment with FB and I was not really knew before that they have separated for the messages into four. I only thought that for messages it is only in inbox so everytime I open my FB I never did clicking the “other” and there was one time I just notice it and when I click it I saw someone give a message on me that is so important for my business and he just send it one month already. Though it was a sad moment but I just laugh in it.

  5. I didn’t know about the “other” message thing and don’t think anyone I know has experienced it. I would never pay and hope that no one else is either.

  6. Nice post, I’m not facebook-ing so much, but this articke really worth to read. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Husband: Honey I’m getting a divorce, its for the best!
    Wife: Why darling? I love you!
    Husband: Well, that’s not what Facebook says! It says you love that Mark Smith more than you love me! I thought I told you how I felt about that man!

    Did you know: 25% of relationships end on Facebook!!!

    1. But the BEGINNING of the end doesn’t happen on Facebook. Facebook is just the last nail in the coffin for a bad relationship. And I think if the people involved in those relationships cared more about making them work, they’d spend more time with each other or go to counseling instead of spending time on Facebook. Facebook’s a symptom, in my opinion, but never a CAUSE. That’s just blame-shifting.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…HP Slate 7: One Month Out, Honeymoon’s OverMy Profile

  8. This is just a not so cool thing. Yes, at the end of the day we have to say that Facebook understands our friends better than us and hence they take control of each and everything. But, that’s not at all cool. And its just getting complicated and complicated. At some point of time, Facebook has to think about it.

    MS Qureshi
    MS Qureshi recently posted…How to stop spam on Facebook?My Profile

    1. Facebook doesn’t understand our friends or our friendships at all. They’re trying to, and if we read some of the algorithmic assumptions they make, we might be amazed but I think we’d be more amused or disgusted by them. The disturbing thing, to me, is that they’re trying so hard or believe it’s their business to understand us so well. Then again, like any other being we share parts of ourselves with, I suppose they have that “right.” We did share the info.

      I guess Facebook is that creepy, stalker friend we find it convenient to use, until it works both ways and we feel abused BY them.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Spam CaféMy Profile

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