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Facebook Allows Users to 'Pay to Be Popular'

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Today, if you’re interested, is Mark Zuckerberg’s birthday. As pretty much everyone has pointed out, the now 28-year old CEO might get the greatest gift of all: a $100 billion IPO.

In advance of Friday’s biggest and most hyped IPO ever (this may be a slight exaggeration, but then again…), Facebook (FB) has been looking for new and better ways to make money. Right now, individual Facebook users only earn the company an average of $1.21 per quarter. Beyond that, the company has seen a slowdown in revenue per user recently, even as the number of users has gone up.

Of course, none of that should hurt the Facebook’s IPO. Still, Zuckerberg and Co. would like to make a bit more money off users.

Enter, among other things, the Facebook App Store and the company’s efforts to encourage developers to design for their site. Perhaps more compellingly -- or disturbingly, depends on your view -- the social media giant has been testing a new “pay to be popular” feature.

According to the Daily Mail, Facebook has been offering a free version of its new “highlight” feature to some people in New Zealand. Basically, “highlight” allows users to pay to have more of their friends see their status updates.

At this moment, only 12 percent of a given user’s friends see an average status update. Obviously, most would like more of their friends to know what they had for dinner and how that math test went.

The new feature will appear as a button next to like and comment on individual posts. When users click on it, they will have the option of paying $2 to make the post visible to more of their friends. Highlighted posts might “appear higher in the news feed, stay visible longer, and appear to more friends and subscribers.”

Some observers worry that the new feature might irritate people. It is also somewhat disconcerting to think someone would be willing to pay to have more of their friends see their status and that Facebook might move away from a merit based ranking system for posts.

It remains to be seen whether “highlight” will reach wider adoption. If it does, you may someday soon be able to make sure all of your Facebook friends know that you’re going to the beach today.
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