Why The New York Times Isn't Using Facebook's 'Frictionless Sharing'

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When Facebook launched its new 'frictionless sharing' with the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal*, it was natural to ask: why isn't the New York Times one of the launch partners? It turns out that the Times was asked and declined. Former Times developer Michael Donohoe explained why on his blog (emphasis mine).

Earlier this year when I was still at the Times we talked to Facebook about a news app. Facebook had a whole set of new features in the pipeline (presumably just launched) and this passive reading action was one of them and they were pushing hard for us to use it. It came up in conference calls and on-site meetings. I believe Facebook is very eager to catch-up or even displace Twitter as a go-to place for news, and this is how they think they can do that.

To their credit the newsroom shelved the idea. The consensus was that this was intrusive and potentially an invasion of privacy. I think after that was repeatedly communicated that Facebook lost interest in doing anything at all.

I think its one thing to broadcast your taste in music, but what you're reading raises the stakes a bit. For now, all I have is this isolated case but everything has a beginning.

What's important here, I think, is that Facebook is trying to push the idea that their version of 'frictionless sharing' is some kind of inevitable technological development about which people have no choice. "It's like resisting cars, boyo!" But the idea that technologies run these independent paths with no intermediation from humans is far from established fact. People shape technologies as much as technologies shape people. When's the last time you heard about supersonic flight? That was supposed to be the next big thing! But it had some problems and people said, "No, thanks."

There are an almost infinite number of technologically possible products and actions that we choose, as a society, not to engage in. We could all have webcams in our showers and those broadcasts could be played randomly in loops on websites and a billboard in Times Square. There could even be a company built around installing those webcams. They'd even cut you in on the advertising revenue. You don't have to do anything! Just get in your shower like normal and they'd make sure daily images of your naked body generated you some money. I push the point to absurdity, but I'm as keen to protect the privacy of my mind as the privacy of my body.

What you see in the Times decision above is that a group of people -- in fact, a very powerful group of people -- can come together, look at a new technology and say, "No thanks." Keep that in mind as Facebook continues to push people to share every and anything under the guise that it's What's Going To Happen Anyway, So You Might As Well Get With The Program Early.

Via Poynter

* My apologies. The Wall Street Journal social app does not employ frictionless sharing. It's all user-directed. I rolled them into the F8 launches, but they were actually a separate initiative. Also, based on the swiftness of Dow Jones' response to my post, I would guess that the WSJ turned down Facebook's entreaty to go with frictionless sharing, too.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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