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Facebook charge for messagesThe blogosphere has been buzzing today with the idea that Facebook is running a test where it’s possible to message people who aren’t your friends for $100, including Mark Zuckerberg. That idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

Except I deserve a cut when someone messages me. It shouldn’t all be Facebook’s. I should also be able to set my own price. Different people assign different value to their time, and a static rate doesn’t make any sense. I, for one, think that $100 to get Zuck to read one of my messages is a bargain.

Charging for messages creates a more efficient market and helps deter spam. I get a lot of mail, and most of it goes unread because there’s no deterrent and no cost for people to send messages. People send messages indiscriminately. I’m thinking of PR people in particular — many just add any writer’s email address to a list without regard to what he or she writes about.

I filter what I choose to read based on whether someone knows my private email address and who referred them. For the ones that I do read, if it doesn’t grab me in the first couple of sentences, I stop reading. But economics is often the best filter: If you’re willing to spend money to send me a message, you’ve probably done some filtering on your own to ensure that there is a reasonable fit and that I would want to read what you have to say.

I’m shocked that, after all of this time, economic filters haven’t been applied to online dating in scale. One of the fundamental problems of online dating is that many women are inundated with messages. This leads to a low response rate. Men get frustrated with the low response rate. So they spend less time on each message and just send more of them. Which means women get more inundated. And the cycle repeats.

Imagine a different scenario: Each person on the dating site gets 100 credits to use each month. You can spend 1 to 100 credits to reach someone. Once that person reads your message, the credits are deducted from your account. By spending 100 credits, you’ve signaled your intent that you’re serious. If you’re only willing to spend 1 credit, that means something else. Once you have scarcity, you’re forced to make choices. You won’t email every attractive woman who comes up.

This model could work in any number of markets: online dating, job seekers looking to reach recruiters, recruiters looking to reach highly sought candidates, etc.

For what Facebook is testing, I’d want a system where the recipient is able to set multiple prices: one to receive a message, a higher one for a promise of it being read, and a substantially higher one for a guaranteed response. (Think of this as similar to online advertising models: sending is equivalent to a CPM, reading is equivalent to a CPC, and responding is equivalent to a CPA.)

If it actually took off, I could imagine automatically adjusting the price based on affinity. Someone from high school pays a 40% premium, someone connected to Shervin Pishevar gets a 30% discount.

Quora is one site that has been testing using economic principles for attention. You can earn credits by writing great answers and spend credits to get attention for questions.

I’ve been running my own test on Quora: For 40,000 Quora credits, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee. (Conversation with me is optional.)

So far, I’ve had one taker.

[Top image credit: Rob Byron/Shutterstock]

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