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Archive for January 16th, 2012

Should Higher Education Welcome Frictionless Sharing?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 January 2012

Frictionless Sharing and The Guardian Facebook App

I recently described developments which suggest the potential for Facebook and Twitter as Infrastructure for Dissemination of Research Papers (and More). The post pointed out that links Facebook and Twitter seem to becoming more embedded within services, such as bibliographic services, in order to make it easier for researchers to share papers of interest across their professional network. Recently Martin Belam (@currybet) tweeted “Frictionless sharing – exploring the changes to Facebook” – a piece I’ve written for FUMSI magazine http://bit.ly/z930Wc and his article explored other developments we are seeing which can make sharing of resources even easier than clicking on a Like or Tweet button. Martin is the Lead User Experience & Information Architect for the Guardian Web site and blogs about UX/IA, digital media & journalism on currybet.net. He is also a contributing editor for the FUMSI online magazine. His opening paragraph, in an article aimed at information professionals, suggests that he feels that Facebook can bring benefits to this sector:

As 2012 begins, Facebook remains one of the amazing growth stories of the internet. Some argue that an eventual flotation will mark the high tide of a second internet bubble, whilst others are awe of the fact that a website that started in a college dorm has grown to have nearly one billion members

The main focus of his article are the recent technical developments which make sharing of resources transparent:

One of the biggest changes for content providers is “frictionless sharing”. In the past, users had to actively share content by pressing a “Like” button on a website, or “Like”-ing a Facebook page, or including a URL in their status update. Facebook is changing this. They have opened up what they call their “Open Graph”, which allows apps and publishers to automatically insert “actions” into a user’s Facebook timeline. And, in plain English, that means that for some sites or apps, simply listening to a song or reading an article is enough to see it posted to your Facebook activity stream without you lifting so much as a mouse-finger.

At the time of writing only a handful of applications have been launched which take advantage of the feature, including those by Yahoo!, Spotify, the Guardian, Independent and the Washington Post’s “Social Reader” app. That is sure to change in 2012, but the roll-out of further apps seems tied into Facebook launching “Timeline” – a new way for users to view their profile pages.

As an example of what is meant by frictionless sharing a screenshot of my Facebook news updates showing the Guardian articles I read using the Guardian’s Facebook app is shown. As can be seen the articles I read included ones on “Sherlock: BBC will no remove nude scenes” and “A Thatcher state funeral would be bound to lead to protests“. Note that the links I have provided go directly to the Guardian Web site so you can follow the links in the knowledge that your interest in nudity and right wing politicians will not be disclosed to your liberal colleagues :-)

This provides an interesting example of the risks of sharing the articles you read, without having to manually select an article of interest and consciously share it, whether on Twitter, Facebook, Delicious or whatever, across your network. And this is a reason why some people, including people in my network whose opinions I respect, have concerns over this development. On the other hand, the Guardian Facebook app does seem to be popular. It seems I was not alone in reading the article on how “Footage of nude dominatrix shown before 9pm watershed have prompted more than 100 complaints” and the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail in expressing their outrage whilst including the ‘shocking’ images in their web site.

But the 8,995 people who viewed the article shortly after it had been published was beaten by the 11,686 people who read the article on how Pale octopus, hairy-chested yeti crab and other new species found (warning the first link is to the Guardian Facebook app).

So how popular is the Guardian Facebook app? A post which suggested that We Can’t Ignore Facebook described how the Guardian Facebook app was launched on 22 September 2011. Statistics for a number of the Guardian sections collated on 14 January 2012, just over three months after the app’s launch, are given below.

Section Like this Talking about this
Main 242,326 13,593
Society 13,451      862
Technology 16,662   1,053
Data 3,486      100
Football 14,820      888
Sport 905       68
Culture 38,261   3,699

These figures seem to suggest the popularity of the Guardian Facebook app although, as ever, care must be taken in interpretting figures. In particular I do not know if these figures may include use of a pre-frictionless sharing app. In addition this single set of figures doesn’t provide any comparisons with views of the Guardian Web site or shown trends.

But returning to the recent FUMSI article Martin Belam provided some suggestions aimed at information professionals

Think again about Facebook metadata
Facebook’s Open Graph is a metadata standard for marking up your web content. It sits quietly in the HEAD of your HTML, and replicates many fields that you might be familiar with from metadata standards like Dublin Core. The fact that anyone can access it via a web request allows Facebook to say the standard is “open”, although they tightly control the spec themselves. To take advantage of the new frictionless sharing, even if you don’t build an app yourself, making that metadata available is going to be a requirement to have your content display properly within the many social reading experiences that are sure to be developed.

Think again about audit trails
“Frictionless sharing” changes the nature of our digital audit trails on Facebook. From a competitive intelligence point of view, it is great news, because potentially seeing what someone from a particular company is reading about and watching can give you clues as to where their work may be heading. It also means being careful not to leave audit trails yourself if you want the research you are doing to be kept “under the radar”.

Discussion

The ‘Frictionless Sharing’ Term

Martin Belam’s article generated some interesting Twitter debate on the day it was published. I spotted the initial tweet from @currybet and shortly afterwards read @ppetej’s comment that:

Much as I loathe the whole ghastly “frictionless sharing” thing, some useful thoughts/pointers by @currybettinyurl.com/6rvnqx7

and @mweller’s response:

@ppetej frictionless sharing is interesting I think for academics – it certainly shaped the way I wrote my last book

I curated the discussion on Storify since I felt it raised several interesting issues, in particular in taking the discussion about frictionless sharing beyond one particular instance (Facebook, which tends to focus concerns on other aspects of Facebook’s activities) into the more general issues of frictionless sharing in an educational context. Indeed, as Pete Johnston pointed out, a post on Martin Weller’s The Ed Techie blog published back in 2008 described The cost of sharing in which Martin made the point that “The ‘cost’ of sharing has collapsed, but institutions don’t know this“. Martin went on to point out that:

Clay Shirky argues that the cost of organisation has disappeared, and I believe this is because sharing is easy, frictionless. If I come across something I share it via Google shared items, Twitter, my blog, etc. If I want to share I stick it up on Slideshare, my blog, YouTube. There is a small cost in terms of effort to me to do the sharing, and zero cost in anyone wanting to know what I share. Sharing is just an RSS feed away.

Hmm, so back in November 2008 Martin Weller stated that “sharing is easy, frictionless“. Can anyone find an early reference to use of this term in this context? In a post on Sharing Learning Resources: shifting perspectives on process and product Amber Thomas used the term to describe activities taking place in the 1990s: “For example, the late 90s to early 2000s emphasised the benefits of collaborative resource development. Later on, some advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) brought to the fore the concept of content as by-product, exhaust, frictionless sharing” but was not using the term at the time. I wonder if the Sharing article in Wikipedia should include a reference to ‘frictionless sharing’ and whether Martins’ blog post would be an appropriate reference for an early citing of the term in the context of sharing resources on social networking services?

Whenever the term first originated (and on Twitter Martin Weller suggested that “around the time of the dot com bubble ppl talked about the frictionless economy“) by December 2011 the ReadWriteWeb was predicting a Top Trends of 2011: Frictionless Sharing. This article illustrated frictionless sharing initially by Facebook are doing but also sharing music and news items.

But what of the potential for frictionless sharing in higher education?

Martin Weller feels that such approaches are already becoming embedded in some of his working practices, in particular: “frictionless sharing is interesting I think for academics – it certainly shaped the way I wrote my last book“. In My Predictions for 2012 I suggested that we will see an increase in the amount and types of ‘open practices’ including not only the well-established areas of open access and open educational resources, but also open approaches to being recorded and videoed. But such areas are still related to the creation of content. Frictionless sharing is interesting as it relates to openness in a more passive content: openness about what you may be reading (and as well as Faceboook, apps such as GoodReads allow one to share information on what you are reading).

Tony Hirst explored these ideas in a post published in October 2010 entitled in which he asked Could Librarians Be Influential Friends? And Who Owns Your Search Persona? when he asked “: if librarians become Facebook friends of their patrons, and start “Liking” high quality resources they find on the web, might they start influencing the results that are presented to their patrons on particular searches?“. Tony referred to this post last week when he revisited the potential role of librarians in supporting sharing of resources in a post in which he asked Invisible Library Support – Now You Can’t Afford Not to be Socials? His comment that:

The idea here was that you could start to make invisible frictionless recommendations by influencing the search engine results returned to your patrons (the results aren’t invisible because your profile picture may appear by the result showing that you recommend it. They’re frictionless in the sense that having made the original recommendation, you no longer have to do any work in trying to bring it to the attention of your patron – the search engines take care of that for you (okay, I know that’s a simplistic view;-). [Hmm.. how about referring to it as recommendation mode support?]

was particularly interesting in that Tony seems to have changed from using ‘invisible’ to ‘frictionless’ during the course of writing the post.

The Challenges

In some respects pragmatic advice regarding privacy issues and uncertainties as to how such data could subsequently be used would suggest that you should avoid the risks associated with frictionless sharing. Indeed, I made this point in a post in which I asked Is Smartr Getting Smarter or Am I Getting Dumber? following the Smartr app’s unannounced release of frictionless sharing for reading Twitter links read by members of one’s Smartr network.

But as the evidence of the Guardian app seems to suggest, people may be willing to share their interests in a passive fashion, and benefit from ways in which members of their networks reciprocate.

I guess the questions to be answered are:

  • What other types of frictionless sharing are there?
  • What benefits can frictionless sharing provide?
  • What are the risks in frictionless sharing?
  • Will the benefits outweigh the risks?

But before we can start to discuss these questions we perhaps need to define the terms. So what is ‘frictionless sharing‘? On this occasion Google currently seems to suggest that the term relates primarily to a recent Facebook developments, but I’m interested in the generic meaning of this term.  And perhaps we can use the Wikipedia entry for Frictionless sharing to agree on a definition.

Posted in Facebook, jiscobs, Social Networking | 12 Comments »