By the time you read this column, Facebook's redesigned Timeline and News Feed will be old news. But as I was casting around for column ideas, I instant messaged my friend Mike--otherwise known as @tech_envy--and asked him what he thought I should write about. I was stuck for ideas. He wanted to talk integration. Specifically, he wanted to talk about the changes to Facebook's look, which would put new emphasis on your activity.
In many corners of the internet, these changes were an early hit. The new look was simplified and allowed users to sort through the variety of content that fills their feeds more efficiently. The "All Friends" feed seemed to be a favorite with early reviewers, because it puts the focus back on people and takes it off the sponsored posts and brands that clog so many newsfeeds. But the changes also put apps more front and center on your Timeline.
Facebook wants you to tell everyone what you're reading, listening to, and watching. It's always wanted you to tell the world just about everything, but it's not just asking for status updates anymore. Now it wants you to share, automatically, through the use of apps for Goodreads, Spotify, Netflix, and others.
However, as Mike so eloquently put it, "No one cares what you're watching except adbots." Now, I'm no privacy prude, but when it comes to this kind of sharing I have to agree with my friend and ask, "What's in it for me?"
Let's talk about the Netflix app. Do I really want all of my Facebook friends to know when I'm sitting around on my couch, binge-watching Friday Night Lights (again) or that sometimes I hate-watch old episodes of The Hills? I think the answer to that question is a resounding, "No!" More to the point, my friends certainly don't care what I'm watching when I'm too lazy to get off the couch on a Sunday.
So why should I install that app?
When I like a product or retailer on Facebook, I expect that I'll get sale offers delivered to my News Feed. When I like a news site's Facebook page, I assume that stories will get posted and pop up when I sign in, effectively curating my news for me--saving me the work of checking each of those individual sites every few hours. These conveniences are incentives for me to give up that little bit of privacy. Will Netflix--if I were to install its app--give me a free month of service for what amounts to free advertising for it? That probably won't be the case.
I'll ask again: "What's in it for me?"
While I understand why Facebook and Netflix want you to share this information, I don't understand why an individual would want to. Certainly there are chronic over-sharers out there. We all know them. You could stalk them without ever leaving your computer thanks to their incessant check-ins, pointless status updates, and obsessive Instagramming. Surely those people will love apps that do the work for them. They'll no longer have to go to the effort of writing a status update about watching House of Cards; the Netflix app will let all their friends know automatically. Facebook, and its advertisers, are hoping there are enough of those people out there to make it worth their while--after all, data is money for a social network. The more it knows about you, the more it can sell to advertisers.
Quite some time ago, I allowed Goodreads to post to my Facebook account. Most of the time I forget it's there, but there's something different about this app. At any given time I might be reading a few books. I often forget to update my Goodreads account at all, but if it somehow knew what I was reading--and automatically told all my friends how many pages I'd read each day--I don't think I'd be willing to use it.
Of course the Netflix app does have some useful functionality. You can see how your friends have rated shows that you might want to watch, which could be useful when you just can't decide what to watch. (There's no guaranteeing your friends have decent taste in entertainment.) Perhaps conversations will even develop around shows you and your friends happen to be watching at the same time. But will it be enough to persuade users the app is worthwhile?