Facebook is looking to fundamentally change the way you share content. But the jury is still out on whether a revolutionary idea that makes sense in theory will be embraced by the masses.
At the F8 conference yesterday Facebook laid-out its vision for the next phase of the social Web. And while much of the attention was focused on the re-designed profile page – which has been re-named the “timeline” – the real story is how Facebook envisages sharing to evolve over the coming months and years. The short story is that Facebook wants to remove as much friction from sharing as possible so that it’s seamlessly integrated with a user’s online activity. It’s a logical evolution for Facebook, but it will also require a significant change in mindset for users – and that’s something which could be a stumbling block.
As I’ve noted in previous posts, content sharing today is extremely easy. Simply click a “Share” or “Re-tweet” button at the bottom of a piece of content and – in just a couple of clicks – you can broadcast your latest discovery to your network of friends. But as simple as this seems, the one point of friction is that you have to do this for every piece of content you want to share. So if I find 17 articles on CNN that I think are share-worthy, I have to click 17 times to share them (once per article).
To many this may not seem like a particular hardship. But clearly Facebook views this as experience as something that’s somewhat forced and un-natural. In its view of the world, the simple act of consumption should be enough of a trigger to share what you’re consuming with your friends. So if you’re reading an article on CNN you shouldn’t have to pro-actively tell people you’re reading it – it should happen automatically. If you’re listening to a new album you shouldn’t have to make the effort to announce that you’re listening to it, it should simply appear in your activity feed that you are listening to it.
So for the first time sharing becomes something that just happens in the background in response to your activity online. Sound a bit creepy? To some, it does. Facebook attempts to get around this issue by requiring users to actively opt-in to agree to share their activity when using certain services. A great early example of this is the Yahoo News app. Once you agree to let Yahoo News connect and share your activity with Facebook, it automatically begins posting the stories you’ve read to your timeline. So if you read 3 stories on the GOP presidential candidate debates, the Euro-Zone debt crisis and a humming bird kissing a rabbit they’ll automatically be shared on your Timeline without you having to do anything. Your friends activity will be posted too, and the hope is that such seamless sharing of content will enhance the social curation process and allow you to discover really interesting things your friends are reading.
But this won’t just stop at news. Think music. Videos. In fact think any type of content. It’s going to be up to individual developers to create apps that promote this level of frictionless sharing, so expect a whole wealth of them to start hitting the market.
Now back to the creepy factor. When people begin to fully understand what’s being proposed by Facebook, there’ll be the inevitable “this is creepy” backlash. Even though you have to actively **opt-in** to enable this type of frictionless sharing, it’s guaranteed to make some folks uneasy.
But for me that’s not the real problem with this change in sharing. In a previous post I outlined some of the reasons why people share content, and made the point that in many cases it’s a way to define who we are. Think of it as an opportunity to shape and control your own self-image by deciding what nuggets of content you want to release to the world. In a strange way it’s like public relations. Public relations companies carefully craft their client’s image by stage-managing almost every aspect of their public life. They know what to release to the world – and what to hold back – in an attempt to tell the right story about their client.
For the average Facebook user there are some parallels here. People carefully choose what they share with the rest of the world because it goes some way in defining how they’d like to be perceived. The reality is that sharing content is as much about the individual who’s sharing, as it is the people that the content is being shared with.
Think about some of your friends. There’s the person who thinks he’s funny that likely only shares really funny content. There’s the music fan who shares music videos or unusual music finds. Maybe the politics buff who’s constantly sharing links that define his or her own political persuasion. All the content we share contributes to cultivating our own image online.
But in order to cultivate an image, you need to be able to control it. While the music fan does indeed love music – and wants to share it with the rest of the world – he might also occasionally indulge in a guilty pleasure or two (Bieber anyone?). Is that something he wants to share? And that dude who thinks he’s funny? Well maybe for every 5 hilarious video clips he shares, he watches 20 really lame ones. Does he want to share the 20?
The bottom line is that sharing is as much about editing as it is about sharing. In some respects the content we choose not to share is just as important as the content we do share. And when we lose this ability to edit – when our sharing becomes a stream of everything we encounter in our day – we’re no longer in control. And for many people that’s going to be a huge stumbling block to overcome.
Despite the above, one thing that’s clear is that we’re entering a fascinating period in the evolution of sharing. It’s going to be interesting to see how users react to the notion of frictionless sharing. Facebook thinks it’s going to revolutionize the social space and for some it clearly will. But I believe that many users will want the power to edit. Because curation is really just a slightly fancier way of saying **editing**.