One year into its quest to get us to passively share everything with each other all the time, it's starting to sink in at Facebook that people aren't very interested in bringing radical transparency to their digital lives. A sign of the times: at a panel yesterday, Facebook's manager of media partnerships, Andy Mitchell, explained that the company no longer thinks the future of the Internet is "passive sharing," tweeted Liz Heron, director of social media and engagement at The Wall Street Journal, adding that Mitchell said the "user feedback" was "not strong." It's just one tweet from one digital panel, but it's still surprising to hear that anyone at Facebook is willing to publicly acknowledge that people are reluctant to share after the social network has been going so strongly in an always be sharing direction.
From the beginning people pushed back against this idea. Slate's Farhad Manjoo called it a "terrible plan." "This is a nightmare ... Facebook is killing taste," he wrote, explaining that removing the choice from sharing, makes it seem like we approve of everything we, read, or listen to. "It eliminates the curation aspect of our self-presentations," added Philip Bump at The Atlantic. "It would be as though I told everyone that I was wearing blue jeans and a somewhat worse-for-wear t-shirt right now in addition to revealing that earlier today I wore a sharp, tailored suit. Both are accurate, but only one is the impression I'd like to leave with people." Others had privacy qualms. Some (including me) just didn't want to participate.
Unlike other abhorred Facebook missives, however, the unpopularity of this hasn't gone away. When Spotify said it would require this frictionless sharing, it quickly added a "privacy sharing" option, following user backlash. And it's the bright spot in the social sharing space, as many people still mindlessly share their tune-choices. Other efforts to build apps and services that spew out social updates have been less successful. Stats from TechCrunch showed "meager increases" in usage from other music apps that facilitated frictionless sharing. Social reading, by which links to stories you've read would appear as status updates, has had mixed reception. Anecdotal evidence (from some of the Internet's loudest complainers) suggested that people really hated the idea. "So gratifying to see 'social readers' go away. Terrible idea, badly executed," tweeted AllThingsD's Peter Kafka, after Buzzfeed's John Herrman noted data showing falling user rates. At the time, Facebook attributed these numbers to a change in its news feed algorithm. But, Herrman notes the trends haven't changed.
Now, after months of it not working, Facebook is finally admitting its all-in approach isn't the best way to do things. The site has said it will continue to work with publishers and companies, but not to build these frictionless sharing apps. Instead it will encourage "activity more similar to that of the share and Like buttons" -- things that require active clicks -- Facebook spokesperson Malorie Lucich told Herrman. "We're committed to making media sites more social, while balancing the best way of driving distribution for these sites and helping people discover great content through friends," Lucich continued.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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