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How Facebook is ruining sharing

Molly Wood is getting fed up with Facebook and the friction from its "frictionless" sharing.

Molly Wood Former Executive Editor
Molly Wood was an executive editor at CNET, author of the Molly Rants blog, and host of the tech show, Always On. When she's not enraging fanboys of all stripes, she can be found offering tech opinions on CBS and elsewhere, and offering opinions on everything else to anyone who will listen.
Molly Wood
4 min read
James Martin/CNET

I'm afraid to click any links on Facebook these days.

No, it's got nothing to do with the spam attack and the flood of nasty images making their way into news feeds all last week. Instead, it's because the slow spread of Facebook's Open Graph scheme is totally ruining sharing.

I know you've seen this at the top of your news feed: a list of stories your friends have been reading. Or, simply, a single post with a great headline leading to a story that you'd really like to read. So you click it, because your friend shared it, and you really want to read it. And instead of the story, you get this:

I want to read a story, not install an app.
I want to read a story, not install an app. Molly Wood, CNET

If your friends are using an app like The Guardian or The Washington Post's new Social Reader, you'll get an intercept asking you to authorize the original site's app so that you can read the story. And, of course, so that every story you read will start being shared automatically on Facebook, thanks to the magic of Open Graph!

Now, it's tempting to blame your friends for installing or using these apps in the first place, and the publications like the Post that are developing them and insisting you view their stories that way. But don't be distracted. Facebook is to blame here. These apps and their auto-sharing (and intercepts) are all part of the Open Graph master plan.

When Facebook unveiled Open Graph at the f8 developer conference this year, it was clear that the goal of the initiative is to quantify just about everything you do on Facebook. All your shares are automatic, and both Facebook and publishers can track them, use them to develop personalization tools, and apply some kind of metric to them.

So, publishers and Facebook in particular really, really want you to click those little Add to Facebook buttons so that everything you read, watch, listen to, or buy will get shared to friends who also authorize the app and share to friends who also authorize the app and so on and so on into eternity and hopefully riches. It's all just part of the plan.

Log in to Yahoo News with Facebook ... and start auto-sharing everything you read.
Log in with Facebook... and start auto-sharing everything you read.

The problem, really, is that the plan is turning out to be really annoying in practice. Spotify song sharing is like the new FarmVille, and its auto-sharing turned out to be an unpleasant surprise for folks who didn't quite understand just how frictionless Open Graph sharing would be.

Just as that furor died down (a little), we all started noticing the block of "recently read" stories at the top of the news feed, and OK, some of them looked interesting, so... click! And... app.

Each of these story links is sitting there like a juicy, delicious trap. Don't be fooled!
Each of these story links is sitting there like a juicy, delicious trap. Don't be fooled!

In search of "frictionless" sharing, Facebook is putting up a barrier to entry on items your friends want you to see--that is, they're creating friction. Even if it's just a onetime inconvenience, any barrier to sharing breaks sharing. The barriers will keep popping up as more content publishers create social apps that have to be authorized before you can view their content. For every five people who authorize an app, I'd guess five will turn away, and eventually get annoyed enough to stop clicking links at all, and maybe eventually annoyed enough to stop visiting Facebook so often, and go searching for somewhere easier and less invasive to simply post a link and have fun with your friends.

And hurting sharing is a disaster for a social network. Sharing is the key to social networking. It's the underlying religion that makes the whole thing work. "Viral" is the magic that every marketing exec is trying to replicate, and Facebook is seriously messing with that formula. Plus, it's killing the possibility of viral hits by generating such an overwhelming flood of mundane shares.

Let's say all of us jump on the Open Graph bandwagon and allow app after app to passively post our every Web move. We'll simply have opened the door to a horde of zombie posts that will overwhelm our interest and deaden us to the possibility of organic discovery.

Sharing and recommendation shouldn't be passive. It should be conscious, thoughtful, and amusing--we are tickled by a story, picture, or video and we choose to share it, and if a startling number of Internet users also find that thing amusing, we, together, consciously create a tidal wave of meme that elevates that piece of media to viral status. We choose these gems from the noise. Open Graph will fill our feeds with noise, burying the gems.

Frictionless sharing via Open Graph recasts Facebook's basic purpose, making it more about recommending and archiving than about sharing and communicating. That's a potentially dangerous strategy--not just because oversharing diminishes our interest in sharing but also because it's tweaking the formula that made the site a winner in the first place.

I hope publishers will see that conscious sharing is better than passive sharing, and that content delivery is better than app delivery. I also hope that you, sweet social networker, will do your part to keep Facebook pure of trickster links, intercepts, and passive floods of sharing. Keep copy-paste alive, I beg you: please don't install these "social reader" type apps. Troll the Web as you usually do, and post the links you want to share. Hopefully, if enough of us demonstrate that we don't want our lives to be Open Graph open books, this will all just go away. And if it doesn't... there's always Google Plus.