Sharing is good. We teach our kids to share their toys and chocolate. A problem shared is a problem halved. But, Dear Zuckerberg Mob, that does’t mean that sharing everything with everybody automatically is really such a good idea.
The latest round of changes to Facebook announced this week — “the biggest update that we’ve done in a long time” according to founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg — continues the company’s fine tradition of radically changing the ground rules and requiring users to re-learn how to fine-tune their privacy settings.
This time it does seem that users have to opt in to new features rather than have Facebook preselect complete openness as the default. They’re learning. But I can’t help but think the new features miss the point of what sharing, in a social context, is about — although they certainly help Facebook’s profitability by providing more personal grist for their data mining mill.
Facebook’s new Open Graph protocol allows application developers deeper access into personal profiles. In practice, that means partners like Netflix and Spotify can, if you allow it, automatically tell your friends what movies you’re watching and what music you’re listening to.
Open Graph can potentially drill down as deeply as broadcasting what individual web pages you’re browsing, which of your Facebook friends’ profiles you’re looking at — potentially any online activity whatsoever can be plugged into Facebook.
“The movies you quote. The songs you have on repeat. The activities you love. Now there’s a new class of social apps that let you express who you are through all the things you do,” says the promotional page for the new Facebook Timeline, which gathers this vastly expanded data stream and allows you to “tell your story from beginning, to middle, to now”.
Zuckerberg has called this “frictionless sharing” because, apparently, clicking on the “Like” button is still too much effort. Friction. He wants you to share more, so now everything you do or experience is automatically shared.
He’s entirely missing the point.
“For as much as he’s invested in sharing … Zuckerberg seems clueless about the motivation behind the act. Why do you share a story, video, or photo? Because you want your friends to see it. And why do you want your friends to see it? Because you think they’ll get a kick out of it,” writes Farhad Manjoo in Slate.
“I know this sounds obvious, but it’s somehow eluded Zuckerberg that sharing is fundamentally about choosing. You experience a huge number of things every day, but you choose to tell your friends about only a fraction of them, because most of what you do isn’t worth mentioning.”
At the precise moment I was reading Manjoo’s piece, a friend emailed: “Did you see this?” Yes, a link to the very same article. That was a moment of social sharing right there, a true shared experience — because the article had meaning for both of us, not because we each looked at a list of everything we’ve read today.
It didn’t require Facebook, or any other social network service.
The most incisive comment on Facebook’s changes — though so far I’ve only waded the shallows of the flood of commentary — comes from a feature at Wired. Not from the star-struck article itself, but in a comment from Matt Zia, who once saw Zuckeberg speak at his school
“Based on my first impression from hearing him four years ago, I think his idea of Facebook is driven by his own demons,” Zia wrote. “He struck me as slightly socially inept and misguided, and I think Facebook is a reflection of his personality. I think Zuckerberg honestly believes he is bringing people closer together through Facebook because (based on my impression of him) that’s the best (maybe only) way he can get closer to people.”
Zia’s right. You don’t get closer to someone by making them reveal more data for you to analyse. Nor do you help people connect by pandering to their insecurities about being able to “express who you are”.
It’s all a little sad, really. But Zuckerberg does now have a personal wealth of US$17.5 billion, so that will make up for it.