A couple of days ago, I wrote this post about the hidden “Other” folder on Facebook. This secret folder contains all messages sent to you by anybody who’s not among your Facebook friends. Because you’ve probably never looked in there, it might contain really important messages that you’ve never seen.
Hundreds of you wrote to report what you found in there. Some found nothing there. Some found only spam. Some found awkwardly written mash notes: “They were all men who wanted to get to know me and commented on my looks,” wrote one reader.
In all of those cases, the Other folder is doing its job.
But many more of you wrote that, sure enough, your Other folder contained important, now outdated messages, some with sad results:
• “Notification of the death of a friend was hidden in my Other box. I had been very hurt at not being told, and actually missed her funeral.”
• “Thank you, David. I will never be able to say that enough. Our son died very unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve past (http://MackBrady.com), and thanks to your note, I am just now seeing dozens and dozens of kind and wonderful messages of sympathy and support.”
• “I learned of the death of a former, valued colleague two months ago.”
A number of you discovered, too late, that you’d won prizes or jobs:
• “Shoot, I just discovered I had won a contest for Knicks tickets, but the message was in that ‘Other’ folder. It was from 2011. Grrrr!”
• “Damn, I discovered that a year ago, I won free tickets to the theater and I never knew.”
• “I just checked my ‘Other’ folder and found out that I won a free high-end kitchen faucet for a contest I entered last year. Rats.”
• “Just looked at my ‘Other’ messages and found one about a job opening — in 2011. Think it’s been filled?”
Many of you discovered greetings from long-lost friends or students:
• “I found one from someone I had worked with in Viet Nam in 1970 — he had sent me a message to reestablish contact over two years ago. Glad I found it. Hope he still reads his messages on Facebook.”
• “Whoa! There’s tons of important messages in here. Former students of mine were trying to reach out to me. I can’t believe Facebook doesn’t notify you in any way about these.”
• “Just found a message from a long-lost friend in my ‘Other’ folder. I’d been trying to find her for more than a decade with no success. David Pogue, when she and I finally reunite, our first glass will be raised to you!”
• “I reconnected with an old penpal who I haven’t heard from in 15 years thanks to your tip on the ‘Other’ folder!”
• “I logged into it and found a message from an old acquaintance from 40 years ago. It portends an interesting catching up on each other.”
There were missed social opportunities:
• “Just discovered my Other folder! Missed an amazing party (damn!) and found a ton of messages dating back several years!! How the hell did that happen?! I am a savvy social media user and I’m astonished at this!”
• “Whoa. I had 58 messages there, one being an invitation to a bridal shower.”
And there were Good Samaritans trying to return lost credit cards and wallets:
• “Unbelievable! My husband’s wallet was lost and presumed stolen — someone had found it a year ago and sent us a Facebook message, which was hidden until now! Thanks so much.”
• “Just checked and found a message from someone telling me that they found my lost wallet…a year ago. They really need to redo some thinking on that ‘other’ folder.”
• “A couple of years ago, I stupidly left my card in an ATM while traveling in Argentina. I discovered this ‘Other’ inbox a couple of months ago, and my messages included one from a very nice lady in Buenos Aires, who had a) found my card, b) not stolen all my money and c) actually bothered to track me down through Facebook to see if I wanted to reclaim it. Unfortunately, I found out about 18 months too late.”
Several of you found yourselves in the same position I did: feeling bad that people thought they were being ignored:
• “Now I have to apologize to several past acquaintances and let them know I haven’t been blowing them off!”
Several readers wanted to know how they could access the Other folder on their phones or tablets.
The answer: you can’t. The Facebook apps don’t permit you to see the Other folder. (You can, of course, go to www.facebook.com in your phone or tablet’s Web browser — don’t use the app — to work on the Other folder there.)
There was also a comment from Jimmy Chen, who works for the Messages team at Facebook. He wrote:
• “Our priority is delivering the most relevant messages to you while keeping lower-quality messages out. We use a number of factors to determine that, the most important of which is friendship. If you’re already friends with the sender, or you have a mutual friend, then the message will land in your inbox.”
Mr. Chen was also concerned by the implication that the “Other” folder and the $1 charge to avoid it were created at the same time. They weren’t:
• “The Other folder has existed for a long time before we introduced that ability. The point of being able to pay $1 to deliver to Inbox is that sometimes there are legitimate cases where you’d want to message a stranger — for example, you discovered a long-lost friend, or you found someone’s wallet on the bus.”
One reader, Ilya, had a thoughtful solution to the $1 problem:
• “If the goal really is to prevent spam and not to raise revenue, why not refund the charge if the user replies to the message? In fact, why not let each user set his or her own amount for accepting messages from strangers? The deposit is refunded if the user replies (or just clicks a button acknowledging the message as valid).”
I love that idea! How about it, Jimmy?
I also heard from Jonathan Thaw, who works in Facebook’s public relations department. He said these critiques will be passed along to Facebook’s Messages team. He also pointed out that, in fact, one of Facebook’s preference settings lets you change how much mail goes into the “Other” folder. (When you’re viewing your messages, click the tiny padlock next to your name at top left of the screen. Click “Who can contact me?”)
You have only two options here: Basic (the factory setting, the one causing all the problems) and Strict.
Unfortunately, the Strict option puts even more messages into the “Other” folder! It’s making the problem of missed messages worse. (A warning there even says: “You may miss messages from other people you know.”)
Look: it’s clear that the “Other”-folder system is broken in a very upsetting way. It’s preventing important connections, blocking the very communications that Facebook was created to foster.
Let’s hope that Facebook finds a better solution to blocking unwanted messages. Because right now, the secret Other folder is swallowing up a lot more than spam.
What Readers Found in Facebook’s ‘Other’ Folder – New York Times (blog)
facebook – Google News