Recently a number of articles have decried recent Facebook changes allowing seamless sharing of information. Using Open Graph, several news sites such as the Washington Post and the Guardian have released “social reader” Facebook apps. These apps, once enabled, allow Facebook friends to see the articles you have read in much the same way that Spotify shows friends songs you have listened to.
Molly Wood at CNET released a scathing article entitled “How Facebook is ruining sharing.” Molly insists that sharing and recommendation shouldn’t be passive, and this sort of passive sharing will “overwhelm our interest and deaden us to the possibility of organic discovery.” I would argue that the exact opposite is true, that seamless sharing improves organic discovery.
Seamless sharing improves organic discovery
How many times have you been sitting in a car with a friend and heard them play a song you liked? Prior to the advent of the smartphone, you would have to remember the name of the song, then at a much later point in time, download it… if you could remember the name. Spotify now allows you to see what your friends are listen to and quickly try the song or artist yourself. Spotify for me has quickly become an easy way to explore new music that I never would have heard of without this service. While initially there was a chorus of boos from people complaining about the lack of privacy this spread, this chorus quickly faded as those who demanded more privacy found the option to stop sharing.
How was news promulgated prior to seamless sharing? You might receive an e-mail from a friend with “Fwd: FWD: Fwd: FWD” appended to the front of the title. Often you’d find that some people never shared anything of value. This might be an elderly relative who only sent fake inspirational stories or urban legends. In the end, many drew the same conclusion that I did. These forwarded e-mails were generally marked as unread and never opened.
The new social reader is one of the first things that allows people to catch glimpses outside of the filter bubble described by Eli Pariser in his TED talk. Very quickly, I found myself catching headlines that I normally wouldn’t have read if not for the fact that another friend had checked out the link beforehand. Of course social readers might introduce some level of junk into your feed as certain friends read low-value articles about say Kim Kardashian’s recent divorce. However, just as in the past, these sources will be mentally filtered as you realize that specific friends might not have the most important contributions to your media digest.
The important thing here is that you are seeing things outside of your curated digest. I posit that when people are overly conscious of what they are sharing, in the end you miss out on information. Some of this information may or may not be useful, but with seamless sharing you get to make that decision. With curated sharing and without seamless sharing, people you follow make a decision for you.
Facebook privacy decisions
It is true that the default privacy settings in Facebook have become looser since its inception. As I have argued above, I believe that this creates more organic discovery opportunities. Nonetheless, Facebook has allowed for close management of privacy settings, allowing for users to manage their information in a relatively easy manner.
It seems many Facebook users do not understand the model under which they are using Facebook. As a Facebook user, you are allowed access to a powerful medium that allows you to connect to your social network in a way that has never been possible in history before now. Although you don’t pay any money to use its services, Facebook is not free. The cost is privacy. This is information is sold by Facebook to 3rd parties for cash. You control how much privacy you are willing to give up to use Facebook, and in exchange you get some degree of connectivity to the world.
As a frequent traveler, I am more than willing to give up more of my privacy in order to be more connected to my friends around the world. I love being able to see what my friends are reading and listening to on Facebook, because otherwise I would be totally disconnected from them for months at a time.
Facebook’s seamless sharing is another way for me to remotely participate in the water cooler discussions about recent news, which I would normally not be privy to being overseas. It allows me to be anchored in my life at home within my group of friends while working on the other side of the globe. It allows me to see the introduction of new members of my family when I am unable to be at the hospital for the delivery.
Others choose to severely limit or completely disable their Facebook accounts, as the benefit they gain is not enough to overcome the value of the privacy they give up. If you have never consciously evaluated the value of the Facebook product and how much privacy you are willing to give up to use it, you should. However, I think I and many others will agree that the benefit is significantly greater than the cost.