Alexis Madrigal over at The Atlantic points to an interesting blog post by former New York Times developer Michael Donohoe about why the New York Times passed on Facebook’s vision for “frictionless sharing”, which the social media giant recently rolled out with The Washington Post’s Social Reader app.
With Facebook’s new model, all users do is read articles as they normally do and the app shares each one with their friends. No liking or tweeting. It’s the same model that has Spotify listens appearing in so many folks Facebook feeds.
The issue that held back the Times was centrally about privacy. As Mr. Donohoe write:
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.
On the other hand, no one is forced to use the Social Reader app. People who simply show up to WaPo’s website won’t have their reading habits exposed. As with Facebook itself, it’s a conscious choice to sacrifice privacy for a greater flow of information within your social network.
Mr. Donohoe’s point is that most users will start doing this, then forget about it, and that at some point it will create a terrible situation for a reader, and likely blowback for the newspaper involved. His hypothetical:
What if your friends saw a steady stream of articles that you were reading?
Mark Zuckerberg, of course, hopes that we’ll soon live in a world where our every move on the internet is shared on Facebook. Literally, that’s what he talked about at the latest Facebook developer conference. It’s a vision of a web in which the things we do–read, watch, listen–become links around the web as powerful as the hyperlinks that power Google search. But as with all things Facebook, it’s also a world that pushes the boundaries of privacy to their outer limits.
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