Facebook may be one of the most successful companies to emerge on the consumer internet in the past decade, but it has made more than its fair share of blunders and is no stranger to controversy and criticism, especially when it comes to privacy.
The latest feature to attract negative attention is the company's seamless sharing, which was announced earlier this year at Facebook's F8 developer conference.
News.com's Molly Wood says that she's "afraid to click any links on Facebook these days." Why? Arguing that "Facebook is ruining sharing," she explains:
Sharing and recommendation shouldn't be passive. It should be conscious, thoughtful, and amusing--we are tickled by a story, picture, or video and we choose to share it, and if a startling number of Internet users also find that thing amusing, we, together, consciously create a tidal wave of meme that elevates that piece of media to viral status. We choose these gems from the noise. Open Graph will fill our feeds with noise, burying the gems.
ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick adds:
When you see a headline posted as news and you click on it, you expect to be taken to the news story referenced in the headline text - not to a page prompting you to install software in your online social network account.
That hijacking of your navigation around the web is the kind of action taken by malware. It's pushy, manipulative and user-hostile.
The criticisms of Facebook's seamless sharing may be quite legitimate, but that doesn't mean that seamless sharing isn't creating some pleasant surprises for publishers for the time being. One of them: years-old stories are being dusted off by users and going viral.
According to The Financial Times, "Throughout this week, most or all of the “most shared” and, by extension, “most viewed” stories on Independent.co.uk have been from the late 1990s. Most are oddball stories with eye-catching headlines, including “Sean, 12, is the youngest father” (January 1998), “Eton pupil died in ‘fainting game’” (March 1999) and “Scotland’s ugliest woman honoured” (May 1999)."
The net result: The Independent's Facebook traffic has increased "several times over." That obviously isn't something The Independent is complaining about.
Of course, the actual benefits of this pleasant surprise aren't exactly clear. How many of these old articles were originally surfaced on Facebook is yet to be determined (there are numerous theories), and because they're in the deepest recesses of The Independent's archives, they may not be as monetizable, at least at the moment. There's also the fact Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm might currently be favoring news articles over other forms of content, leading the Financial Times to note that "Facebook could be just as capricious a referrer as Google" in time.
But all of these unknowns and potential caveats aside, the initial results from seamless sharing do hint that Facebook's importance to publishers is only bound grow. Whether that's good news for publishers remains to be seen, but it's certainly good news for Facebook. The key, however, for the world's social network is making sure that its users don't opt out of the system (or opt out of Facebook entirely). Facebook's track record in pushing the privacy boundaries is strong, but given the nagging criticisms around seamless sharing, it's possible Facebook is finally biting off more than it can chew.
With this in mind, savvy publishers will have to weigh the immediate benefits that can be realized through seamless sharing with the possibility that they'll eventually be complicit in killing the sharing goose that laid the golden egg.