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A pricey status

One of the greatest attractions of social networks, and surely a factor behind their success, is the fact that they are built on trust. And that they are free.

How much is a Facebook status worth? How far would you go to ensure all your friends get to see your latest link? Are you willing to put a monetary value on letting the world know exactly what you had for lunch? Soon these questions may no longer be rhetorical.

Facebook has started testing a system that allows users to highlight or promote particular posts by paying a small fee. For now, the trial is being rolled out only in New Zealand, with expansion depending on how it is received by the social network's users there.

With Facebook's IPO imminent, it is no surprise that its owners would start looking for, and test-driving, money-generating ideas. Nor is it a surprise that such an experiment would be carried out in a relatively small market like New Zealand. Indeed, so low-key was the offer many users believed it to be a hoax.

Perhaps it should have been. One of the greatest attractions of social networks, and surely a factor behind their success, is the fact that they are built on trust. Facebook appeals to millions precisely because it engenders, rightly or wrongly, a sense of community. When financial questions emerge among "friends", trouble quickly follows.

We'll have to wait and see how Facebook navigates this quandary.

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