At the time, I thought it was a ridiculous idea. But now I think it's brilliant.
Imagine the e-mail system described above, where nobody can send you e-mail unless you've given permission in advance. Now imagine an opt-in system where companies and people can pay you for e-mailing you.
You should be able to set your own rate, and Facebook gets a matching amount for delivery. So if you're willing to open an e-mail for 10 cents, it would cost a company or stranger 20 cents to send you the mail. You get half, and Facebook gets the other half. The money is transferred to a PayPal-like account that Facebook should own when the message is actually opened.
You would ether get left alone, or get rich. Either way, you win.
This system would enable Facebook to hand over the e-mail addresses of users based on any criteria the spammer wants. Let's say they want to reach women between the ages of 18 and 60, who charge any amount less than a quarter to be reached. The spammer enters the message into the system and Facebook delivers without revealing the address. The user gets paid. Facebook gets paid. And spamming becomes much more expensive.
The world would be a better place.
Imagine if you could hand out a phone number that could only be dialed if you were Facebook friends? Here's how that could work.
The service would work like Google Voice, but owned and operated by Facebook. They would give you a Facebook-specific phone number. To dial the number, the caller would have to initiate the call either from the Facebook site or a Facebook cell phone app. (Google Voice already does this: When you call someone from the web, it calls your number, then it calls the other person to connect the call.)
Here's the powerful benefit: The call would only be placed if the caller was already on your Friends list. In fact, everyone's profile would have a "Call me" button which, when clicked, would initiate a phone call.
You could hand out your Facebook number without ever revealing your actual phone number, and without giving up control over who can call you. And Facebook friends could call you without knowing your number.
Incredibly, people still carry around business cards. However, they present more of a problem than a solution. Anyone who meets a lot of people in business ends up with a giant box full of business cards, and no time to process them. Most business cards are never added to a contacts application.
Facebook could solve that. Imagine if Facebook launched a real contacts application, and automatically put friends in there. Then imagine that each Facebook user got a unique QR code that could be printed on the backs of business cards. (A QR code is a fancy, "3D bar code.")
Now, when someone hands you a business card, you could use your Facebook app to snap a picture of the QR code, which would automatically add your contact information to their Facebook address book, and theirs to yours -- but only after you approved the swap next time you logged on to Facebook.
In other words, handing someone a business card would initiate a mutual Friend request, automatically designate that person as a business "friend" and populate each others' Facebook address books with contact information.
It's easy to imagine how Facebook could leverage the power of exclusion to provide features and services that just about everyone wants, but that are currently unavailable from major companies.
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook could achieve what Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and many others have been trying to achieve for years: To create a platform so compelling and necessary that to cancel your account would be equivalent to withdrawing from society.