The changes Facebook has made to its site over the years rarely go by without controversy – from opening the network to everyone, to changing privacy settings, to more recently introducing “frictionless sharing”. Whether you know the term or not, you’ll have definitely come across frictionless sharing at some point – it is the reason for the various feeds in your timeline telling you what your friends have recently read, watched, or listened to. Social Reader apps are those from the likes of the Washington Post and The Guardian that are linked in to Facebook so that they can track what you are reading and share it with your friends whether you wanted to or not through frictionless sharing – and they are dying. Fast.
The popularity of social readers of both The Guardian and the Washington Post have fallen off a cliff over the last month – falling by around 75%. TechCrunch points out that this drop coincides with the change Facebook made to how the articles are displayed in users’ timelines – moving to the current “Trending Articles” box as opposed to the much bigger “Recently Read” box of a few months ago. Yes this would certainly have had an effect on social reader usage, but it is more that people in general have hated them. It turns out people are embarrassed to spam their friends. The articles displayed through frictionless sharing are not curated, a user hasn’t given that article a stamp of approval and decided that their friends might be interested in it or should read it. No, frictionless sharing just displayed everything you read – a stream of clicks with no regard to quality or interest outside of the headline. It was the online content version of vomiting on someone’s desk and asking them to fish through it for something interesting.
Facebook still hasn’t removed its frictionless sharing by any means. The Trending Articles box still shows whatever stories had headlines to catch your friends’ attention and Spotify still pops up telling me my friends listen to a lot of guilty pleasures on Spotify – but their priority in the timeline is being much reduced. Myself and those on Twitter who called celebrated the death of social reader apps on the news, however, would love the ability to turn all of it off. Curation is an active game, frictionless sharing takes consideration out of that and produces a stream of content that no-one would actively choose to follow.