Facebook tests Highlight, a feature more embarrassing than porn

Facebook

Social network is testing a new feature that lets users pay £1 to promote their updates in friends' feeds

BY Ben Raworth LAST UPDATED AT 11:58 ON Fri 18 May 2012

ON THE DAY that Facebook floats on the stock market a story from New Zealand may give an idea of how the company plans to make money and keep its new shareholders happy.
 
The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook has been testing a new feature in New Zealand, called Highlight, that charges users to promote their posts.
 
For a NZ$2 (£1) fee Facebookers are able to use the new feature, which is promoted next to the 'Like' button with the explainer: "Highlight an Important Post: Make Sure Your Friends See This!"

Paid-for posts are then assured of a prominent position regardless of Facebook's algorithms, which tend to favour those updates which receive the most ‘Likes' and comments.
 
A Facebook spokesman said: "We're constantly testing new features across the site. This particular test is simply to gauge people's interest in this method of sharing with their friends."
 
Analysts have pointed out in recent weeks that Facebook will have to pursue new ways of generating income from users following the flotation. This week Facebook warned investors that the rapid growth of its mobile apps, which do not contain advertising, is threatening its long-term financial prospects as users migrate from desktop PCs.
 
Reaction to the trial has been largely negative. Business Insider point out that the fee is very high for what is essentially a message. "If you want to be certain that your friends see something you have to say, why not just send them an email?"
 
The Tech Crunch blog says: "Facebook is playing with fire. The service has always been free for users, and a pay-for-popularity feature could be a huge turn off, especially to its younger and less financially equipped users who couldn't afford such narcissism."
 
Critics are also concerned that promoted posts could result in a deluge of unwanted commercial spam messages.
 
What ultimately turns users off, however, is the anti-social nature of using money to improve your social status. San Francisco Weekly neatly summed up initial user reaction: "Paying to promote your Facebook status might be more embarrassing than paying for porn." · 

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