Facebook’s ‘frictionless sharing’ ideal hit by friction


21 Nov 2011

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in action at F8 in September

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It’s surprising it took this long. But months after Facebook introduced ‘frictionless’ or automatic sharing, the knives are out as people are suddenly concerned about the privacy implications of over sharing.

Around the same time Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced his Timeline concept (we’re still waiting for this, by the way) at F8, certain changes began to materialise on Facebook. The news feed was changed and up on the right-hand corner a new ticker-type information box would tell us things like so-and-so commented on someone else’s status, or liked their status, etc.

In recent months, it went even further. New apps like The Washington Post’s Social Reader (which, incidentally, netted the newspaper an extra 1m readers online, so not bad) told us what articles our friends were reading.

In the US, the integration of music services from Rdio to Spotify tell us what music our friends happen to be listening to at any given time.

The idea is this form of sharing will introduce us to new articles, new music, new food recipes, new fitness regimes, you name it.

It’s strange that it has taken it this long to be a privacy issue. But now everyone is freaked out by the realisation or fear that we may be sharing too much. That once again Facebook has overstepped the privacy mark. Robert Scoble called this “crossing the freaky line.”

Scoble concludes that Facebook is ultimately shaping the next phase of media as we know it with you – the individual – at the centre, informing friends of new things as you yourself consume them. He’s right there.

But suddenly, this clamour about over-sharing and accusations by CNET, no less, that Facebook is ruining sharing. CNET’s point is that people with privacy concerns may choose not to share via the new generation of social apps, that frictionless sharing is actually causing friction. But why did it take months for this particular penny to drop?

Did a binge of over-sharing cause them indigestion, or was everyone waiting for someone to finally just say it?

What will this over-sharing revolution do to our offline lives? For example, earlier this year it was suggested by AA that house insurance may go up if people are posting holiday and location info on social networking sites, because they are offering tantalising targets for burglars.

Like all things, this will eventually calm down and become the norm. I think the rate, or speed, of change that technology is introducing in our lives is beginning to get people wondering where the brake levers are, but I don’t expect Facebook to diverge from this course.

But what we do need to learn is how to manage what we share and how to manage our online identities in a world where increasingly we’re all living in a fishbowl.

This will require even greater clarity from Facebook and the 100 or more social app creators who are waiting in the wings with offerings that might transform our online lives for better or worse.

John Kennedy