Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Frictionless Sharing" is a Bad Solution to a Good Problem

Facebook's big "frictionless sharing" push is or will be (or has already been) tapering off, as the company isn't so hot on the idea anymore.  Apps built with "frictionless," or passive, sharing include Spotify, the Washington Post Social Reader, and others.  They're the apps that share everything you "read," "watched," or "listened to" (clicked on) by saying you read, watched, or listened to it (broadcasting it in your friends' news-feeds).  They're nice if you see a friend is listening to the same cool music that you like to listen to; in other scenarios, automated sharing doesn't play fair.

I oppose the completely hands-free approach to automated sharing that Facebook took in 2011.  Hearing that Facebook is pulling back from it is music to my ears (music I will be sharing on Facebook willingly and actively, no doubt).  However, "frictionless sharing" is a solution to a problem.  How do you make it easier for users to share, and how can you get a user to share with his friends if he isn't motivated, or just doesn't think to share?  It's a good problem, and it deserves a good solution.  Did we ever get Read, Listened, Watched, and Want buttons?  (Note:  the article linked to there says these buttons would be in the news-feed, but I'm about to say that I would love to see them on websites.)  If those buttons were on websites, Facebook could call that "frictionless sharing" (or "less-friction sharing"); not automated sharing, but convenience-sharing, the drive-through of social networking.  The Like button is already the drive-through of social networking, but expanding beyond the Like button would be good for these reasons:

  • You don't always like the things you read.  You might, however, want your friends to know you're reading something interesting, but sad.  Or your listening to the "mixtape" that your friend just "dropped," and you want to make it Facebook-official that you listened to it, without making it Facebook-official that you "liked" it.  A great feature would be the ability to post a status update with a set of "listens" or "reads," e.g. saying, "Been listening to some good music" and quickly selecting from a dialogue that shows you everything you've listend to in the last twenty minutes.
  • If you see "like" on a webpage and you don't like the page, there is still ample opportunity to share your activity.  Right now, the way to do this is with a status update:  it's not hard to start a conversation around a webpage.  Having a few buttons, and not just Like, prompts users to start conversations.  And Facebook, please allow users to have conversations around new sharing features on your social network:  I could never figure out how to comment on Spotify listens and such.
  • Convenience:  some will inevitably make fun of this.  Some will argue if you're just clicking a button, how much can you want it (whatever it is) shared?  The news-feed is a commons:  you're not the only one contributing to your friends' feeds.  There is a question of importance.  Importance of the content.  Effort of the content creator.  These are good questions.

Sharing is good.  It's good for the sharer, and it's good for the "friends."  Who benefits the most?  Depends.  The scale is sometimes tipped toward the sharer, but I want to know what my friends like, whether or not they want to tell me (with exceptions, and only some friends).

I want to revisit my point about conversations.  Conversations should be central to social networking.  But people are limited in their abilities to start conversations.  Or they lock themselves into filter bubbles, in terms of the kinds of conversations they start.  They may pull their friends in to those bubbles.  So the more conversation "prompts" there are, the better.  The more kinds of prompts there are, the better.

Too convenient?  Sure.  If you abuse the feature:  if you only use easier sharing methods and never write anything, or if you overuse "drive-through" sharing and clutter up your friends' feeds.  I don't think it goes beyond that.

Postscript:

All the way back in May, I started a blog post about how I hate frictionless sharing.  Sadly, that post never got completed, and I've been waiting for a good time to talk about the issue (at the time, the catalyst was a BuzzFeed article declaring "Social Reader" apps to be "all collapsing"; read TechCrunch's rebuttal).  Make no mistake:  I hate Facebook's frictionless sharing.  I just think that a small dose of automation in sharing could be good, especially if it solves other problems at the same time.

There should be automation to say you tried a project, you succeeded, you went on a hike and to where you went, you cooked a recipe, you reviewed a restaurant or business, you turned in a homework assignment, and more.  Note that publishing your activity with a canned status update does not count.  This type of sharing needs to have its own channel.