The value of Google+ is roughly proportional to how many people will join it.  Consequently, if lots of people sign up for Google+ and put much effort into finding friends, writing content, and describing themselves then the service will be a success giving Google an asset worth tens of billions of dollars.  Of course, the reverse could easily happen with Google+ never coming close to getting as many users as Facebook causing most people who have signed up for Google+ to stop devoting time to it.

An obvious solution for Google would have been to pay people to spend time on Google+.  The danger of this strategy is that lots of low income people would try to create multiple accounts to get the payment.  But Google could limit its payments to people who have pre-existing arrangements with the company and consequently avoid having to pay for fake users.  Also, given its vast store of knowledge I bet that Google could somehow come up with an algorithm to almost guarantee that no one had more than a single account.

Let’s look at the numbers:  If Google gave 50 million people $100 each it would cost the search giant only $5 billion, much less than a successful social networking site would be worth to it.  Google would only pay this hundred dollars to users who put in, say, 20 hours of work on the website.  As Google has a valuable brand name and a great reputation most people would trust Google to honor its word.

Taking this to the next level, Google could use everything it knows about you to price discriminate in pay based upon how valuable you are to the company.  I expect that as we approach singularity a lot more of this will happen as companies learn a great deal more about us.

We know that Internet users are very reluctant to pay for content meaning that if Google charged even one dollar per person and figured out some way of eliminating payment transaction costs Google would have far fewer customers than it does by charging a price of zero.  I wonder if the reverse holds and if you charge negative prices (and have no payment receipt transaction costs for customers ) then you get vastly more users?