OK, I confess. I’m oblivious to the ins and outs of Facebook. At one time I tried to fine tune my Facebook profile and author page. I read articles and blog posts, and books for dummies and idiots, but I could seldom seem to get things to work as advertised. And on those rare occasions when I finally mastered a feature, it seemed like Zuckerberg and company went out of their way to change it.
In the end, I abandoned my dream of being a Facebook power user and joined the plodding masses, grateful when something worked, accepting when it didn’t. Life was much less stressful as a Facebook slacker.
I guess that’s why this whole “frictionless sharing” thing caught me by surprise. Evidently it’s been around a while, but it’s only impacted me in the last month or so. I began seeing posts with great headlines leading to stories or videos I might actually want to access. The problem was, a click yielded not the story, but an intercept screen. Seems I could access the content with a single click, but there was a catch (isn’t there always). By that single click, I’d authorize the original site’s app access to my Facebook info, and then, the screen informed me:
“This app may post on your behalf, including videos you watched, articles you read, and more.”
Nothing about this sentence fills me with confidence, but it’s the last bit I find mildly sinister. What the hell does “and more,” mean exactly? Call me paranoid, but it sounds a lot like “trust me.” Whatever his considerable talents, Mr. Zuckerberg is demonstrably rather cavalier in regard to privacy rights, so I think I’ll pass, Mark.
Evidently (and thankfully), I’m not alone in this opinion. Robert Wright, at The Atlantic has a great article about the feature, and in another post there, Alexis Madrigal outlines how the concept could undermine your right to privacy.
In the end, I’ve protested by just refusing to play. When I see an intercept screen, I immediately exit, regardless of how enticing the headline. I don’t think I’m alone in that either. Last week PC World ran an article reporting that users are abandoning purveyors of frictionless sharing in droves. Let’s hope that continues.
Because the privacy issue aside, the whole concept is, well — dumb.
Something goes viral because a lot of people like it and share it with their friends. Those friends in turn, share it with their own friends. At each step in that process, there is a human being deciding A) whether they like it, and; B) whether they think their own friends will like it. When all those individual judgements prove correct, the result is rapid and widespread distribution, and the percentage of the recipients actually reading the content is relatively high.
But what happens if we ‘automate’ the process? Does everything go ‘viral?’ What about the article with the great headline I abandoned after reading one paragraph because it was crap? Or the article I clicked on by accident? Or the one I read because it was specific to some research I was doing for a book? Do any of us really want to be bombarded with reading lists from every single one of our Facebook friends? I don’t even want to read a lot of the stuff I read, much less everything someone else reads.
There is a word for information of dubious relevance, mindlessly disseminated. It’s called spam. It seems to me that “frictionless sharing” threatens to undermine the entire concept of “going viral.” In fact, if the intention of “frictionless sharing” is to remove barriers, it’s had just the opposite effect for me. I find I’m passing on articles I really want to read, just because I refuse to let my Facebook profile be hijacked as a spambot.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that feels this way. What about you? Do you see any redeeming value in ‘frictionless sharing,’ social or otherwise?
Update. Just after I posted this, I saw a tremendously informative video on Yahoo about Socialcam. It’s well worth watching. (And pretty scary!)