A couple months ago on Facebook, a new profile format launched called “Timeline.” It was a more dynamic layout, showing a ticker feed of friends’ actions and allowing certain applications to display what you were listening to or reading. Many of my friends jumped right on the Timeline bandwagon, eager to share and learn more about their friends. I was a little hesitant to do so. I was not sure if I was prepared to share that much information with my network. To a certain degree, I like to keep a shroud of mystery about me and to retain control over what I would like people to know about me. However, I was told that it was just a matter of time before everyone would probably be migrated to the new platform. So, I succumbed to what is the latest technology trend of 2011, frictionless sharing, coined by Facebook itself.
Facebook was one of the first major websites to implement the frictionless sharing platform. Frictionless sharing works through open-graph applications that share user activity to Facebook automatically and continuously once the user gives permission to the service behind the application. The user basically takes a “hands-off” approach by allowing the application to do all your “sharing” for you, whereas before a user had to click the “Like” button or cut and paste a link. Facebook introduced frictionless sharing by partnering up with about 20 services for the new open graph, starting in September with some default actions: “Read”,“watch” and “listen.”
However, the watch part of the equation seems to be on hold since the House passed a revision to the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), saying that consent must be obtained from a consumer whenever the disclosure is sought.
Spotify is the main service behind the “listen” arena. In fact, people cannot even join Spotify without a Facebook account. After joining Spotify, a user will get to stream free music through Facebook but it will also be displayed on one's profile for their network to see. This seems harmless enough: for instance, friends can see what music you like, and make recommendations for you and vice versa. Plus you get access to a huge selection of music for free.
Facebook also works with newssites such as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Once you give permission to the app, any time you read an article from the WSJ through Facebook, it will automatically show up on your profile. All articles that you read through the app will be done inside Facebook itself. Again, your friends may point you towards other articles you might like or you may expose your friends to new articles. With my personal experience, I may see an interesting article on a friend’s profile and click the link. Then when the app pops up, I quickly give permission to it to access the article, without reading the “fine print” about granting this app permission to share every article that I decide to read through the app from that point forward.
Its obvious to see the pros and cons behind frictionless sharing. The biggest pro would be social discovery and engagement. Knowing what type of music a person likes or what types of articles he is reading is very telling. You may bond with friends through common tastes or by making recommendations. Then again, you may be repulsed by what your friends are listening to or reading. This could also have bigger ramifications if people other than your friends delve into your profile, such as current or potential employers, and form judgments based on your tastes. Privacy concerns are always prevalent, especially surrounding data mining and storage, but so far no laws are being broken.
Another result that may come about from frictionless sharing is behavorial modification. The profile you see may not be a true representation because if a person knows that what he listens to or reads is broadcast, he may choose certain music or reading material to appeal to his friends. Essentially a user could create an online “persona,” although it would be hard to hide the truth when meeting friends in reality. Yet, it is still a possibility since a lot of Facebook “friends” are from a moment in time and not people you engage regularly.
Facebook is the first major site to actively launch frictionless sharing but it is clear that many sites are heading in that direction. And the reaction by Facebook users has mostly been receptive. Facebook is not pushing this onto its users, but rather adapting to its users’ need to share more and more about themselves on their profiles. The good news is that a user can still choose not to opt-in to the new Timeline format, or if you do, you can adjust the privacy settings for apps to determine who can see what.
The biggest motivation for anyone to join Facebook is to connect. We meet people in “real life” and want to retain ties to that person. Frictionless sharing is just another dimension of connection. What people listen to, read and watch are the most popular topics of conversation for the majority of society. If frictionless sharing can make it easier for people to connect (e.g., literally less clicking), it helps create a greater sense of community, even if only online.