As usual, I eagerly clicked on a shared link from my friend Venessa Paech this morning, on Facebook. Today she was sharing a perspective from CNET on the friction Facebook has introduced in its quest for frictionless sharing. We’ve all see the various automatic updates that some people may not even realise they are providing to their social graph (previously know as their friends) – they’ve read an article on the Washington Post Social Reader or The Guardian; they’ve listened to a song on Spotify. And CNET makes two key arguments:
1. People will be afraid to click on links because Facebook is tracking them, and
2. Facebook is introducing a barrier to sharing.
These are valid points, and yet they deserve a counter perspective. Let’s take them in turn.
People will become afraid to click on links.
We’ll, this is something that people have gotten used to around the web. I don’t think there are many people who are concerned about their personal privacy online who are not aware that every major player in the online space (and yes, I mean online in the connected sense that spans smartphones, tablets and old fashioned laptop/desktop computers) tracks their behaviour. That’s just the way online works.
Of course there is a difference with Facebook since you must be logged in to use Facebook and so the data is personally identifiable. On Google, you’re increasingly logged in through one of Google’s many services (gmail, analytics, adwords, reader, and now the hopeful Google+) and they have the same ability. They just haven’t started using it in the same way.
Let’s think for a minute about the positive side of this. We all claim that we don’t like and don’t want advertisements. However, when you’re ready to buy something, how much do you want to recall that there’s just the right product out there. How much do you want to know exactly where you can buy it, where you can get it delivered FAST, and where will give you the best price. These are things that we get through research, but we start that research with destinations in mind that we find based on advertising. And we’re shown those relevant ads based on what we’re viewing.
A generation ago, we often started our day with the newspaper. And the editors chose what we would see by selecting the front page layout. Then we’d get to work and stand around the proverbial watercooler discussing the latest news. Those discussions still happen. We remain interested in current events. But we find our news, opinion and perspective from a wider range of sources than ever and we discuss our opinions with friends and collegues both in person and via our social networks. And they know what we’ve been looking at. So our fear is less that it’s what our friends know about us and more what various and sometimes unknown third parties know about us.
This is where Facebook has a challenge and the most recent array of new social sharing applications running on Facebook simply highlights it. At the end of the day, most news sites require registration to read more than one or two articles, all music sites require registration before listening, and in giving that information to the companies from which we receive services, we are agreeing to their use of our personal information albeit in certain restricted ways. The data protection laws today in most developed countries offer some protections to us as consumers against misuse of our personal data. This protection is subject to companies understanding and following the law, but for an upstanding business making their way in this environment, it is difficult to inadvertently violate these laws. [The reasons for this are many and require a separate post to explore fully].
It is fair to say that the fear of clicking links within Facebook is probably more of an adjustment as we’ve been reading, sharing and clicking for more than 10 years with increasing levels of confidence that nothing too terrible will befall us from our actions.
Facebook is introducing a barrier to sharing.
So let’s take the second point, Facebook is introducing a barrier to sharing. Conventional wisdom on the web says that anytime an action requires an additional click, customers will defect. And indeed this is true. However, a one time click which significantly increases the reach of a particular publisher, is probably worth the initial friction. These sorts of issues are best illustrated with numbers, so let’s take a stab at it.
First, let’s say that every person on Facebook has 100 friends. The actual average is 130 according to Facebook themselves, but 100 is an easier number to work with and will mean that the actual result is higher than our demonstration.
If only 2% of those friends install a social reader app, that’s 2 people sharing what they read.
50 of that person’s friends use Facebook on any given day (again according to Facebook).
Here’s the guess work:
How many of those 50 actually click on the link and install the app? We’re really about to show the positive of viral sharing and why this is not friction at all and in fact a great amplification strategy:
If 1 of 50 (2%) use the app, usage is exactly level with the starting point of 2% of initial users having installed the app.
If 2 of 50 use the app, then the publisher has just doubled their reach.
If 5 of the 50 do so, we are looking at 500% more engagement though a single article. And this is only a 10% engagement rate.
So, there may be a few of the 50 exposed people who are turned off by the experience or afraid to share their data. But based on usage stats on Facebook, they are in the minority.
While CNET highlighted the perils quite well in their article, it is important to look at the other side of the story. On a personal level, I love seeing the articles I would otherwise miss about my hometown sports teams and other local news. There are so many links and connections flying through my wall that I certainly like the fact that social reader applications summarise the most read articles for me at the top of my newsfeed.
The next question is what happens when everyone gets in on the game and newsfeeds become polluted with nothing but social sharing apps. I’m sure Facebook will come up with something to improve the experience. They’ve not sat still waiting and watching so far, I would not expect it to happen now.