Frictionless or seamless sharing, how about mindless sharing

The first thing you noticed when Google Buzz was activated was that it turned everyone you’ve ever had email exchange with into a friend. If you think about that for one second, you immediately see that that was a mindless thing to do.  A public outcry ensued forcing Google to make changes, but apparently other people don’t learn from such missteps.

I  regularly use Twitter’s Favourites button to bookmark items that I intend to read later. Once I’m done reading an item I remove it from my Favourites. I do exactly the same thing with Google Reader, just bookmark stuff for reading later. Does that mean that I’m in love with whatever was bookmarked, or that I even like it? Absolutely not. And I think I’m not alone.

A while back, when I discovered that sites apparently unrelated to Facebook were able to use my active Facebook session to automatically display a list of my friends, I was quite annoyed. From that moment on I always log out from Facebook after each visit, and that seemed to have temporarily stopped the stalking. Now, with their so-called frictionless sharing, Facebook is returning with a mirror of that stalking feature: stalk your Internet activity and report it back to Facebook. This is not only dumb, but it also makes the notion of sharing pointless.

I once read an article where Facebook was arguing that Google didn’t get social media because Google didn’t cater for what people actually cared about. Well, I don’t think people necessarily care about everything they may see or touch every day. And I don’t think people care about sharing everything and anything they may see or touch on the Internet either. In this path, I see Facebook losing their way: they are increasingly pushing what Facebook actually care about, if necessary to the detriment of what the user actually cares about, akin to the time when people started calling Google on their mantra of don’t be evil. Facebook and Google seem to be orbiting on opposite directions around the same object, it’s early to tell who is (or isn’t) converging towards that object of desire, but the shape or their trajectories appear similar to me. That would mean that one is getting it more and more, while the other may be missing it more and more.

The way things are going, notions like sharing, caring, friends, all of these things are losing their meaning on the Internet. These notions are naturally about being selective, automatic sharing isn’t selective because it lacks feelings. In our teenage years we want all the attention we can get, and that tend to be just a phase that we grow out of eventually. As we mature we tend to become more focused, hence increasingly selective about the things we do or say or share. The situations where we lose control of what we share can often become taxing experiences for us.

There now exist many sites that offer read later functionality. I’ve not been eagerly using any, but at least those services have a better alignment between user intention and the features that they are offering. But do we ever, in our large masses, want to grab attention all the time on all the things we do? I certainly don’t. I don’t think sharing should be automatic, unless we opt it to be for ourselves. This is why I think Facebook’s frictionless sharing is dumb.

Semantic dissonance, how Facebook is confusing me more and more

I was using Facebook app on the iPhone today, trying to leave a message on a friend’s wall but I just had to stop and think for a while. I couldn’t complete this simple routine task because I couldn’t be sure I would be writing on my friend’s wall: the App was prompting me to post what was on my mind. Nothing  new there. But I had ended on that form while reading postings on my friend’s wall, and I just wanted to contribute to that one. But I was not sure anymore if the App was broken, or if whatever I would be writing would appear as a “news item”, instead of a posting on this particular friend’s wall. How did it come to this?

I think Facebook has hit a rock here: I don’t see a semantic match between what is commonly referred to as news, and catching up with news about friends. I do realise that words have elastic meanings on many social media sites these days, the word friend clearly has all sorts of meanings and actually means nothing anymore. But when news about friends get mixed up with general news, then I find it harder to make out what is going on.

I did hear about F8, and all the changes being introduced, and what not. I am used to such big changes on Facebook, actually they seldom move me except when it appears that privacy is being cut further more. This time, I think there’s something wrong with what they are calling things on Facebook. It’s semantically wrong to treat any friend update as a news item. Here are the reasons that I see a semantic dissonance here:

  • Facebook is hosting everything and anything: people, companies, charities, causes, shops, events, games, etc, the list is long. Any snippet of information about any one of these couldn’t be more different than the other.
  • Facebook is streaming all posting to whomever care to listen, read or watch. That’s ok, so long as you know the context the information is broadcast on.
  • Information about one’s friends tend to have more emotional appeal, you relate more strongly to those, you really do care – even if we’re talking about “elastic friendship” sometimes. It is more personal, that’s why you call them friends.
  • However, information about what is going on in the economy, world politics, some technology or scientific matter, have wildly different impact on us. Sometimes it’s infuriating yet you feel powerless about it. Sometimes it’s exhilarating, funny or witty, sometimes exciting, sometimes educational. Whatever feeling this category of news item may cause, it is often with a fair bit of distance and quite impersonal.
  • Here is the issue then: when you are about to post something personal, you don’t want it to be treated as if it were impersonal. That’s a blindspot that Facebook appears to have, it’d be worse if they intentionally did that. Imagine somebody saying: yeah, I am someone who really care, I care about anything and everything, everything is personal. I wonder how you would think about such a person.

I am not the biggest Facebook user out there, my visits to Facebook last on average 2 to 3 min. But when I come to the site I want to get something done quickly and move on – if you’re linked to me on Facebook then you probably know my son features on most of my postings there. For the first time I was hesitating because I couldn’t be sure what the site was trying to tell me.

News about friends is technically called news, but they are special and personal. News about other matters are also news, but they are impersonal, often distant, especially on the emotional side.

So I wonder if Facebook is trying to become more and more like Google, while at the same time actually, Google is trying to become more and more like Facebook. You read all sorts of articles matching those two up in a giant fight, but I think Facebook’s latest move is more confusing than Google’s.

Google+ is a nice work, for a first public beta. What took them so long?

I’ve been using Google+ for a few days now, my first impressions are positives. I find the experience to be generally smooth, the layout is well balanced and just pleasant. This is the first time ever that Google produces a UI that I find polished, and they might even not be done with it yet. I think the recent UI refresh was the tipping point that makes it really palatable for most. By making Circles an opt-in, they’ve finally nailed it – though I’ve read Scoble a few times – who hasn’t ;-).

What took them so long? Why couldn’t Google do this 3 or 4 years ago?

There’s still the geeky stuff in there though, “Stream” for example is not really meaningful to everyone but the nerds.

Circles is a feature that I have always found missing on the social media sites that I’ve used so far. Google+ might even be powered by Buzz and/or Wave, two products that they clearly forgot to put a UI on, but that need not matter.

Speaking of beta, there is no mention of that on the site. So this may be a break from the tradition of keeping a perpetual beta label on their products. It may also be a sign that people no longer pay attention to the “beta” label, folks run production stuff on any odd alpha release they can lay their hands on.

Facebook killer, or Twitter killer, or whatever-killer, that is not for me to say. I tend to think that those “… killer” are overblown 9 out of 10. But I think Google+ will find a daily use for lots of people, and that may be what they are looking for, that may be what they need. The question is though, will they really learn the real lesson here: which is to keep innovating for people, not just besides them.

I like what I’ve seen so far. Let’s see where they take it from here. Whatever thinking framework allowed them to build this, would do wonders if correctly nurtured.