Just yesterday, the head of Facebook messaging products, David Marcus, announced that the “other” message folder, also known as Facebook message purgatory (quite possibly the location of Lost Oceanic flight 815) is finally being removed. This controversial (and cleverly hidden) folder/filtering capability went live on Facebook in a 2010 update to Facebook Messenger. The announcement of the update and the feature went largely unnoticed by Facebook users. Most were not even aware of the existence of the “other” folder, let alone that there could be very important messages being filtered to that folder. Some users reported not seeing messages from friends that were erroneously filtered to the “other” folder for up to 3 years. Elizabeth Weingarten of Slate.com chronicled her experience with the “other” folder when she misplaced her laptop, and did not see the “other” folder messages from a kind stranger who found the computer until after she had already replaced a costly MacBook. She wanted answers from Facebook as to why these very important messages were filtered to her “other” folder. In fact, most of the internet wanted answers.
The changes and updates to the messaging capabilities drew so much ire that Facebook launched the “Mercury Project” in August of 2012. Facebook Engineer, Adam Wolff, wrote a lengthy explanation of the detailing how the Mercury Project planned to address “issues with disconnection, incorrect message counts, and missed and duplicated messages.” Aside from these problems, other issues included the fact that the folder was only accessible from the desktop version of Facebook, and not in iOS or Android mobile applications. In December 2012, updates which attempted to improve and fix the features were lack-luster (at best) and poorly received.
This caused even more negative reaction across the web partially because it was a horribly designed filtering system and maybe even more so because it was touted by Facebook as an “update and a test” in a company blog post discussing the filtering options and new great ways (read: money) to bypass the “other” folder. The feature that started as a “test” actually ended up being a revenue stream for the social media company when users could pay to have urgent messages delivered to the recipient’s primary inbox. Justin Lafferty explained in his overview of the updates, mentioning that the Facebook rationale for the feature may help filter messages even better:
“Several commentators and researchers have noted that imposing a financial cost on the sender may be the most effective way to discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful.”
In essence, users who weren’t connected to another Facebook user or brand could pay to have their message delivered to the primary inbox. For most, the fee was small- as low as $1.49 US Dollars to bypass the “other” folder. Theoretically, if users weren’t motivated enough to pay the fee to bypass the “other” folder, then the message probably wasn’t important enough to be sent to the primary inbox of the intended recipient anyway, thus preventing junk/unwanted communications. Chris Taylor of Mashable fame discovered just how eager desperate for revenue Facebook was when he discovered that he could message Facebook Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg and bypass his “other” folder for a premium price tag of $100 USD.
Marcus, announced the changes yesterday in a post that explained how the “other” messages folder is being replaced by “message requests,” which will allow users to “accept or ignore new requests without the requester knowing you’ve read their message.” Additionally, messages will now automatically be routed to Facebook user inboxes when the following criteria are met: users who are friends on Facebook, or who have each other’s contact information in their phones and have it synced with their respective Facebook accounts, or have an open thread (discussion). All other messages will be a message request. So far, the responses have ranged from elation to suggestions that this may make cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying even easier.