On ‘Frictionless Sharing’

If you like sharing everything and if you think that pressing a ‘like’-button is too much work, you’re going to love Facebook’s new frictionless sharing. If you like to steal a private moment once in a while and sometimes try to pretend to be cooler than you are, you might not like it so much.

Ok, first, let’s recap the basic idea behind the frictionless sharing: If one of Facebook’s ‘social plugins‘ is installed on a site you’re visiting you’re automatically sending anything you read into your Facebook news feed. And the only clicking you’ll have to do is the actual clicking through to the article. Oh, and the final piece of good news is that you don’t even have to be logged into Facebook for the social plugins to work [update, seems like that issue has actually been fixed].

One reason I think this might end badly is that an essential part of the Facebook experience is the pleasure of carefully creating a gently improved online/external version of who you are. I’m not sure people are going to like when that aspect is slowly eroded away.

My favorite example for when this external persona comes into being is when you explain to people what kind of music you like. It’s nearly impossible (for me at least) not to bring up the coolest music that you listen to, rather than the music you like the most. For example, you might mention Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion as your favorite album [1], rather than point out that a mix including Bangles’ Eternal Flame, Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful and Bon Jovi’s Bad Medicine has an a power-law tail worthy play count in your iTunes player. Not being allowed to construct an idealized version of yourself is a bit like being forced to always wear t-shirt, jeans, and flip flops.

However, sharing everything has other downsides, the most important of which is that ‘oversharing’ might rob us of the ability to steal a moment once in a while. Let me try and explain why that might be a problem:

A recent post on kottke.org has the title “Why is Sergei Brin so good at angry birds“. Kottke writes:

I spent perhaps too much time this morning pondering one of the mysteries of the internet: Sergey Brin’s astronomically high scores on the Google+ version of Angry Birds. For instance, Brin’s high score on the easiest level of the game is 36240. It’s a legit score (here’s a higher one) and he has impressive scores on several other levels.

It’s a neat observation [2], but the crucial point of the story is that everyone is left to wonders: ‘Why is Brin spending his time playing Angry Birds, when he should be at work running Google?’ And most of us aren’t even shareholders.

Or the other day, on my way home from work, I noticed that the fall sunlight was particularly golden — and on a whim, I took a small detour to enjoy a couple of additional minutes outside before returning home to help with tired/moody toddler care (including diaper changes) and other post-work chores. Without frictionless sharing, I can still get away with stuff like that, but I’m wondering what my wife would have thought if Facebook had posted something like ‘Sune took a detour in the sun today’, while she was at home working hard to rein in a tired 1.3 year old.

Now, I could (and would) certainly argue that stealing a moment was a good idea – that a couple of minutes of unplanned meandering once in a while is what keeps me (and, I think, other people … for example Sergei Brin) sane in an increasingly busy world. And I’m also pretty sure that I could have convinced my wife that that detour was not a waste of time. The problem is that having to explain that moment would have kind of ruined it. So if had known that my stolen moment had been actively shared by Facebook, I probably would have gone straight home.

And that’s the problem: It’s not that you can’t still steal a moment with frictionless sharing. It is the fact that you might have to justify each one that might ruin those moments; perhaps even make you decide not to steal any more moments. And that seems to me like something almost worse than a simple invasion of privacy.

Let me know what you think in the comments!


[1] Ok, so that’s probably not a hip album anymore, but I’m much to busy to be a hip these days

[2] Also note that Kottke is making excuses for stealing a moment to ponder silly stuff like Sergei Brin’s Angry Bird’s score.

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