There’s a lot of buzz going around about “frictionless sharing” and how it’s going to transform the way we interact on the web. The basic idea behind frictionless sharing is that everything is automated and pushed to your social network of choice based on what you are doing at a given moment in time. It’s an interesting idea, and up until a few weeks ago I thought this was a really good idea. Removing the “work” involved in navigating to your social network of choice and posting a status update or photo breaks down some of the barriers that prevent people from sharing things with others. The problem with this (and it is a rather large one), is that “frictionless sharing” isn’t really sharing at all, at least not the good kind.
What I didn’t realize, and something that is hard to perceive if you aren’t actively using a site that automates the sharing process, is that what makes sharing valuable is the work that goes into it. Or as Mike Loukides says in his excellent blog post “The End of Social”:
My Facebook feed is full of what friends are listening to, what friends are reading, etc. And frankly, I don’t give a damn. I would care if they told me personally; I’d even care if they used a medium as semi-personal as Twitter. The effort required to tweet tells me that someone thought it was important.
What he is saying is that removing the “friction” also removes the value. Social networks thrive because people are making conscious decisions to share something with their network based on how they are feeling or what they are thinking at a given moment of time. The value in this process comes from the decision and the effort required to push the information to your network. Without these barriers, sharing is deprived of its real value and feeds become nothing more than data repositories.
Here’s an excerpt from Andrés Monroy-Hernández’s blog post “In Defence of Friction” that sums things up nicely:
In many scenarios, automation is quite useful, but with social interactions, removing friction can have a harmful effect on the social bonds established through friction itself.