Friday, December 9, 2011

Frictionless sharing

Complaining about Facebook is a popular pastime for many of us these days. In fact I could probably count on one hand the number of people I know who don’t have an opinion on what Facebook has done with this, that or the other.

This column however, is not about Facebook.

It’s about something that Facebook has facilitated. Actually maybe we should make that pioneered.

Frictionless sharing.

It’s a great term don’t you think? I found it in a terrific post on Mike Phillips’ blog, East Sleep Social.

“Frictionless sharing,” says Phillips, “essentially means Facebook automatically sharing updates of what a person is doing. Whether that activity is listening to a music track or reading an article on a website.”

If you have any friends in the UK or USA, I’m sure you’ll have noticed some “I’m listening to such and such a song on Spotify” updates in your Facebook feed or timeline.

That is frictionless sharing. And I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook, I really do, but inane updates about stuff that definitely isn’t worth sharing get on my nerves.

Again I’m not talking about “took the dog for a walk” or “making a coffee” type updates. I’m talking about updates from another social service being simulcast on Facebook.

The best (or should that be worst) example, I think, is people checking into places on Foursquare.

No issues with Foursquare per se, but simulcast check-ins on Foursquare and Facebook. Grrr!

According to Mike Phillips, this happens because Facebook enables it to happen. Which is great, but doesn’t mean we should inflict it on our friends.

Facebook, says Phillips, “Assumes we want people to know everything about us, that we want our lives to be public, our lives to be lived in the public domain.”

Obviously anyone who has ever posted to Facebook is most probably in some sort of tacit agreeance with that.

But what I’d like to see, as does Phillips, is for people to start taking more control of their automated online sharing and simulcasting.

Take a moment to look at your preferences and settings and you’ll quickly see that you don’t have to link and share check-ins and posts on the likes of Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter.

In most cases you don’t even have to opt out. You opt in.

However, once you opt in, you still need to keep a close eye on your preferences.

“It is default behavior that if a user does opt in,” says Phillips, “that all of their friends will see these updates.”

This has given rise to the issue I’ve been writing about today: an assumption by a computer program that all my information is interesting to my friends.

Or as Phillips puts it, “It equates activity with tacit approval or even recommendation.”

It used to be, back in the good old days of a few months ago, that people had to choose what they wanted to share and when they wanted to share it.

Whereas today, all you seemingly need to do is browse an article on the internet, or have a guilty musical pleasure pop up in your playlist, and Facebook can’t wait to tell your friends about it.

Whether they like it or not. And I suspect most of them do not.

I believe that by automatically sharing an endless stream of inane and inconsequential fluff, Facebook is essentially devaluing sharing.


Because when I read an article I think is worth sharing, I share it. That’s what generating great content is all about.

But when that quality content is buried within a never ending stream of simulcast Foursquare check-ins and retweets of tweets, it can very easily go un-noticed.

Which in my eyes, means the sharing culture that Facebook has fostered over the last few years becomes valueless.

And all because they made it frictionless.


Mike Phillips