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Not All Sharing Is Caring

Last week Facebook announced a host of “enhancements” to their platform. Many of these changes revolve around the concept of frictionless (forced) sharing. The way this is intended to work is that when you connect an app like the music site spotify or The Washington Post to your Facebook profile, your activity will automatically be shared with others. No more having the agonizing frustration of finding a share button and clicking it. You do things on the web, your friends get a play by play update of all of it. In short they decided to turn it up to eleven.

This is of course good for Facebook. More sharing provides both the platform and other users information about the true identity of the person attached to the profile. This surfaces new opportunities for connection, conversation, and of course more data than your brain can imagine without exploding. But is good for Facebook the same as good for the users of Facebook? In this instance I don’t believe it is.

I love it when I am listening to a song that moves me, reading an article that speaks to me, or viewing a real life event that is something of significance. Often, when I feel like something is worth telling other people about, I will post an update or share a link on Facebook with my friends. I’m using the platform to say, “hey I dig this (or despise it) and perhaps you will too.” It is a conscious decision to start a conversation, or at least try to. If I “like” something or share something, I am in some small way providing an endorsement of it. I am sending a signal that checking this out might be a good use of the most precious commodity in the world – time.

Now, on any given day I may check out dozens of songs, view hundreds of articles, read dozens of blog posts, and visit countless places, online and in the real physical world. Most of these things are not truly remarkable. Most are mundane, moderately interesting, or just ok. I don’t share everything because not everything is worth you knowing about. If I am not moved by it, why would I recommend you spend time on it? My evaluation of content, my thought about it, represents a large part of the “friction” that facebook is seeking to remove. With friction, I am consciously sending a signal. Without friction I am simply creating noise.

Consider that the average person on Facebook is connected to approximately 130 people, and turning it up to 11 for every single one of them creates a significant amount of noise, thus making it more challenging to discern the true signals my friends really want me to see, explore, and talk about. Friction has a purpose is conversation.

The beauty of friction is that is can slow things down and even stop them from moving entirely. Content that lacks the ability to overcome friction the friction of personal judgement is not propagated, and content that matters to us helps to add context to our lives. I don’t want to know every song you listened to today, but I do want to know the one that gave you goosebumps and possibly why. That is the makings of a good conversation.

I am frequently wrong about things, and perhaps I am way off on this idea. How can a company like Facebook with so many users be wrong? Surely they know more than I. Perhaps I am clinging to old world views of privacy and human behavior. Maybe I am stuck in a mindset of friction that I am not yet able to overcome. For the time being I will do my best to care about what I share. Now to post this to Facebook so that my friends can talk about it.