For those who don’t live and breath web design and development, frictionless sharing may be an unfamiliar term. Back in 2012, it was touted as the next big thing in the evolution of the Internet, primarily by social media giant and possible-evil-empire-in-the-making Facebook. Frictionless sharing is a process by which everything a user views is shared, not just items they select. Compared to traditional sharing, where my niece might post that she’s listening to Tegan and Sara’s hit song “Everything is Awesome,” under a frictionless sharing model every song she listens to will be shared through her social media outlets.
Needless to say, there are pros and cons to frictionless sharing. The biggest pro, and the reason that Facebook and others push frictionless sharing, is that user participation is no longer needed to keep the sharing wheels a turnin’. Popular songs, movies and products would perpetually dominate the top of the charts, presumably generating the revenue that Facebook is looking for. There’s also an advantage to small businesses – if you’re a new restaurant, for example, under the traditional sharing model your customers would need to elect to post information about your establishment (for better or worse.) At the very least, on a service like FourSquare, they need to “check in.” Under frictionless sharing, any socially networked customer that came through your doors would theoretically help spread word of your business.
The cons to frictionless sharing are pretty obvious. First and foremost, it’s part of an ongoing trend to treat people as “users” rather than human beings. People network socially because they enjoy passively chatting with their friends about their interests, not because they enjoy being marketing automatons that are constantly generating ad revenues for large tech corporations. They also tend to enjoy privacy to some extent. From a human perspective, frictionless sharing tends to be something that annoys users, and something they don’t want – making it rather a failure.
But the biggest failing of frictionless sharing might be on the business side, the core reason it was pushed so heavily over the past two years. The data frictionless sharing generates may be…useless. This has to do with the fact that our lives can be rather cluttered digitally. Let’s get controversial and talk politics for a moment. Over the past month, I have read several articles about former Secretary of State and possible 2016 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. I have also read several articles about former Alaskan mayor and possible sociopath Sarah Palin. If every one of these articles were shared through my social networks, not just the ones I elected to share, what would that tell my friend network about my political leanings? More importantly, how would Facebook know which political party to advise spending time and money targeting me for donations?
Here’s another example – a couple of months ago I was reading a lot about the Paleo diet. But I was doing that because it’s a HORRIBLE diet. U.S. News and World Report ranked it the worst of thirty diet plans, based on an almost universal consensus within the medical community that Paleo is unsustainable, unhealthy and leads to weight gain, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. With frictionless sharing, my research into Paleo would be automatically posted to my social networks, leading to two major problems. One, I don’t really want my friends thinking I’m a fan of this whack-a-doo diet, and I don’t want to be barraged by comments pro or con on the subject. But more importantly from a business perspective, I now become a more “valuable” target for purveyors of Paleo merchandise. And I did – I received ads and Amazon recommendations and the whole package, to which I promptly ignored the ads, posted negative reviews of the Amazon books and cleared my cookie cache. So the companies paying Facebook to generate leads for Paleo merchandise sales not only wasted their money on me, they drew the attention of a detractor who used social media to reduce their sales, not increase them.
It’s for these reasons, and others, that Facebook recently formally announced that it’s backing down from it’s massive frictionless sharing push. They’ve asked developers to cool it with automatic inclusion of frictionless sharing, and they’re not touting it as the seventh wonder of the Internet. At least, for now. Is frictionless sharing dead? Companies would still like to figure out a way by which they can use your social network to share information whether you opt to push a button or not. They’re just considering how to do this without generating piles of unusable data, and how to do so without annoying their users.
Here at CommonGround Creative, I guess we have some minor advice for “the big boys.” Remember that your customers are human beings. Sharing the things they enjoy with friends, family and the random passers-by they’ve populated their network with is something that people like to do. Having a computer blabber about everything they look at – not so much. Some might not mind, but I personally don’t want my friend exposed to the craziness of Palin or Paleo unless I curate the process.