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Should Facebook be tapping users for cash?

It hasn't even been a month since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told a German blog that growth, not monetization, was the priority for the social networking site. In fact, he even went so far as to say that he didn't see a revenue plan coming into play for three more years.

It hasn't even been a month since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told a German blog that growth, not monetization, was the priority for the social networking site. In fact, he even went so far as to say that he didn't see a revenue plan coming into play for three more years.

But now, as TechCrunch digs up info on Facebook's financials, it appears that Facebook may not even make it to 2011 unless they can drum up more cash - either through an accelerated revenue model or more investment dollars before the entire global economy erodes further. In response, Facebook basically responds by telling VentureBeat that it's doing just fine - thank you very much - while other sources say that something must be wrong with the Techcrunch calculator.

Recognizing that advertising on Facebook has offered "dismal" returns, some bloggers (Techmeme) are suggesting that maybe a subscription model - nothing too crazy, mind you - might be in order. At least one has said that the only thing holding Facebook back from imposing fees is a lack of guts.

Also see: Madison Avenue to Facebook: you’ll never be the next Google

That got me to thinking about what I, as a user, would be willing to pay for on Facebook. After all, I'm pretty invested already - a large network of personal and business contacts, an always-expanding photo album,  a forum to post my own blog posts or share interesting news items with a defined reader base. I can't imagine that, at this point, I'd just be willing to walk away from Facebook.

So, what would I be willing to pay for?

  • General access: Well, for those invested already, Facebook might be worth a couple of bucks every month. If the price were right, I'd probably pay. Given the number of users - estimated at 161 million unique visitors monthly, up 118 percent from a year ago - even a $5 monthly subscription would bring in a pretty penny. But consider this: there would be plenty of people who would just stop visiting Facebook rather than pay - so you can't really count on that 161 million figure. And, there would also be a number of people who would choose to never even register, so there goes that 118 percent figure, as well.
  • Premium Services: Years ago, I broke down and started paying $20 a year for Yahoo's premium mail service, which had a mail forwarding feature I really wanted but also threw in an ad-free interface. Notice that I "broke down," meaning I resisted for a long time. Sure, the $20 is painless now, but actually coughing up the credit card number to get the ball rolling was a whole different story. If Facebook can develop new features that aren't already being created by outside developers, that might be worth a small annual fee for a percentage of customers.
  • Ad-free environment: For some, this alone might be worth its own fee - though the ads on Facebook right now really aren't so bothersome.
  • A la carte premium services: Would you pay extra to customize the look and feel of your FB page - colors, bling and so on? Yeah, I know, that could make it feel too MySpace-like (read: juvenile) - because sending good karma or buying someone a can of Whoop-Ass doesn't do that already. There was some outrage when Facebook recently redesigned the site. For a couple of bucks, maybe Facebook would let you reconfigure the page's elements to meet your personal needs.
  • Domain mapping: It would be cool if I could host my Facebook profile under my own domain name. Or maybe my Facebook photo album, posted items or personal notes. I bet a lot of businesses would be willing to pay to get their Facebook fan pages as a page on their own Web sites - as a way of showcasing the page to non-FB members, who might just end up being paying customers down the road.

I'm really not big on the idea of coughing up any money for something like Facebook. With that said, I have been known to drop a few coins for a premium service here and there. Subscriptions and fees may not be the right path for Facebook in the long-term, but if the company is really testing the waters on revenue sources while staying focused on growth, one of my random ideas to help bring in a few extra bucks just might be worth considering.

Anyone have better ideas?