Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Analysis: What If People Stop Sharing? Facebook Has The Answer

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 22, 2011

I've often wondered if the Facebook "Like" or Google "+1" buttons are the most basic of all social gestures -- the most minimal of user generated content that can be published by social media streams.

I've wondered if these buttons represent the most basic of unit of our social media worlds -- do they represent the least amount of effort that people can make to register a social event and create "news" in their streams?

After all, "news" is key to Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Without new activities by their users, new web pages, new jobs, there's nothing new for those companies to publish. There's not much reason to go to Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc if there's not much new happening.

News in social networks is primarily driven by what each user chooses to share.

As the initial flush of enthusiasm wanes among social network users, they share fewer photos over time, fewer status updates -- at least that seems to be the case within my groups. This begins to be a serious issue for social networks such as Facebook because there are fewer news events to share among groups of friends, which means fewer opportunities to sell products and services.

People are sharing less also because of users that over-share. We've all had that experience of a friend that joins a network and then dominates your news stream. It's probably one of the top reasons that people are de-friended, or unfollowed.

I know I try to publish less rather than more because I don't want to be the loud-mouth in the social news stream of others.

But it's not just journalists such as myself that are concerned that our output is flooding the news streams of readers, friends, and family. These days everyone creates a mini-dust storm of "events" and many are concerned about being too loud in their streams and they are becoming more careful about sharing as much as they once did.

If you add the mounting privacy concerns among users and worries about employers and future problems their activity streams might create, the slowdown in sharing becomes an ever larger issue.

Right now the trend is likely masked by the influx of new users, but I have no doubt that Facebook's insider analysis of sharing trends had identified a very big problem -- and today it launched the solution at its F8 developer conference, the OpenGraph.

Matt Rosoff at Business Insider quotes Mark Zuckerberg saying:

People have things they want to share, but they don't want to annoy their friends by putting boring stuff in their news feeds. Ticker, light weight stream of everything that's going by you. Won't feel annoyed by friend if lightweight activity shows up there.

He's describing Facebook's OpenGraph, a "frictionless" news stream that's created automatically whenever users listen to music, read a news story, or engage in new Facebook apps.

David Kirkpatrick at Forbes:

The ticker shows what your friends on Facebook are doing right now. If you see that your friend is watching The Daily Show, you can watch it with him. If she is reading an article on The Washington Post, you can read along with her. (The Post, whose CEO Don Graham is on Facebook’s board, launched its own deep Facebook integration today as part of the launch.) With a music application, if you see that your friend is listening to a cut from the new Wilco album, you can click “listen” and your own version of that application will sync with your friend’s—you will be listening together to the song.

There will essentially be two streams for each user, the stuff they overtly want to share, and the trail of their activities in real-time -- essentially a type of life-casting automatically generated, an always on news stream requiring no direct effort on their part..

Deftly, Facebook has managed to go beyond the "Like" button -- the most basic of all social gestures -- and extend users' news stream into a tracker of (nearly) all their activities.

In this way, Facebook has also managed to recruit the silent majority, the huge group of users that are too shy or private to share their activities.

And with every activity recorded and published, Facebook has an opportunity to sell targeted ads and services. More activity events means more money for Facebook and its commercial partners.

Marketers will rejoice at the wealth of user data but will users feel comfortable with that level of "frictionless" posting?

My prediction is that the social media of the future will become more iceberg than pyramid -- much of it will go underground, below the visible line, where people can regain the intimacy of friendships and interact and share without the glare of the world looking over their shoulder.

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Please see F8 coverage:

Tell Your Story with Timeline

Facebook's Makeover: A New Vision of Sharing

Facebook is Ready for Your New Closeup. Are You?


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