The Facebook Freaky Line

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO/Founder of Facebook

It seems everyone is getting freaked out by Facebook once again. Molly Wood at CNET says that Facebook’s automatic sharing features are ruining sharing. That got everyone to pile on over on Techmeme.

First, what does this automatic sharing feature (otherwise known as “frictionless sharing”) do? Well, every time I play a song on Spotify, for instance, it tells everyone something like “Robert Scoble is listening to Skrillex on Spotify.” On Facebook’s web interface that shows up over on the right in the new ticker (not everyone has that, and only the web version shows it). It also puts that onto my new Timeline (only developers have that feature, so far).

It doesn’t just do this for music, either. Everytime I read a story in the Washington Post’s new newsreader it does the same. “Robert Scoble read Ex-MySpace CEO resigns as Zynga executive on Washington Post Social Reader.” (Which I actually did, right now).

Here’s Don Graham, Chairman of the Washington Post showing me how that app works:

Soon, Facebook PR told me this week, about 60 different apps will do the same. So, whenever I take a picture of a meal, or do some other action, with Foodspotting, you’ll know it. If I ever exercise with Runkeeper, you’ll know it. And on, and on, and on.

Now many of you think that’s very freaky. You don’t want to be an oversharing social media wanker like me. You want some parts of your life to be private. You don’t like it if Mark Zuckerberg sucks every bit of knowledge out of your cell phone and shoves it onto your Timeline for everyone of your friends to see (remember, only egocentric social media wankers like me make all their detail public, right?).

Why would ANYONE agree to this? Well, some, like Dave Winer, haven’t. He deleted his Facebook account recently.

Others, like me, are “all in” and very intrigued with this new world. We’ve crossed the freaky line never to return to a world where apps don’t share with Facebook.

What’s really interesting to me is that my wife has crossed the freaky line. She loves the new Spotify and thinks it’s cool her friends get to see her music. That shocked me, because she usually is pretty conservative when it comes to being public. Even better I’ve had dozens of conversations with people and from teenagers to old farts, like me, there’s an astute level of understanding of where the freaky line is for them. If an app crosses the freaky line in a way they don’t like, they turn it off or learn how to use it so it doesn’t spray everything onto Facebook (Spotify, for instance, lets you do just that in the settings).

What the heck is Mark Zuckerberg doing?

He’s building a new media company. One where the media comes TO US. Compare to boring old Yahoo. There we have to visit the media by going to http://sports.yahoo.com/ or http://finance.yahoo.com/

See, the new world is you just open up Facebook and everything you care about will be streaming down the screen.

This is what Zuckerberg doesn’t want to explain to you: to be your new media assistant he needs to know everything about you. Think about it. When i clicked “like” on the San Francisco 49ers Facebook Page, all of a sudden I started seeing news items about the 49ers.

The more Zuckerberg knows about you, the more media he will be able to bring you.

This is why I say Facebook’s real strategy is to know everything about everything. Of course they won’t get there. Why? Because there’s a freaky line.

Governments will soon step in to define the freaky line. They already have started that process and it varies from country to country. In Germany, for instance, the privacy laws are stricter than they are in the United States, so Facebook won’t be able to do some of its “studying” there.

Users will turn off apps, or change their behavior (I already have, for instance, I don’t listen to Lady Gaga on Spotify, I only listen to bands on Spotify that I want you to see).

Zuckerberg will have to change his behavior too. You’ll find them astutely moving the freaky line around. For instance, I really do agree with some of the criticisms about this “frictionless sharing” and I think Facebook (and the third-party developers) are going to have to give their users clear controls. Spotify simply isn’t doing enough here. Let’s explain why:

When I click play on a song in Spotify it instantly tells all of you that I’m listening to that song. For instance, right now, on my screen, Facebook is telling me that Mark Zuckerberg is listening to Something Goes Right… by SBTRKT on Rdio. But is he really listening to it? In my case, possibly not. Why? I might be scrubbing through a list of song titles trying to find a good one. I might be sampling music for 15 seconds a song. I might have just accidentally left Spotify on play. You don’t really know if I’ve listened to that song, or if I really like it.

I listen to Spotify a lot in the car. I’m not even in a good place to tell you anything about the music I’m listening to. I wish I had 30 seconds to hit next before you were told I was listening to it.

Same thing with the Washington Post. Just because I clicked on a link it goes out to all of you. Very viral, and very good for software developers but it will quickly devolve into noise. Facebook always does this with its platforms (starts noisy, then moves the freaky line back as users get pissed off at the noise showing up on their screens).

This is Zuckerberg’s brilliance. Other companies just aren’t willing to even try to move the freaky line forward in order to build a new media company.

On the other hand, I find this new “world’s biggest smallest village behavior” to be interesting. I’m listening to the same music that Mark Zuckerberg is right now. And everyone who is watching me on Facebook can do the same. THAT is an interesting shift in our human behavior.

How fast should Facebook move this freaky line? Well, they are spending months arguing with third-party developers about the verbs that will be allowed and what kind of controls they need to institute so as to not piss off too many users.

So, why am I all in?

Because:

I’ve found new music over the past two months.
I’ve found new news over the past two months.
I’ve learned stuff about my own patterns and can go back onto the Timeline and learn more.

How far will this go? Well, look at Zuckerberg’s own Timeline. He just got the new Jawbone Up. He posted “I can’t wait until I can sync this data directly to my timeline.”

To many of you that is WAY OVER the freaky line. After all, the Jawbone knows when you’ve slept. When you’ve walked someplace. It might, gasp, even know when you are having sex. And Zuckerberg wants to report everything to his timeline.

Do you get why? I do. He knows that the more Facebook knows about him the better the media will be that Facebook can deliver. Oh, yes, and of course the better the advertising will be too.

“Oh, Scoble, how can Facebook bring you better advertising?” Well, check out Etsy’s gift recommendation page. It’s driven by Facebook. It’s magical. It recommends gifts based on my friends and family’s Facebook behaviors. In the case of my producer, Rocky Barbanica, it’s VERY accurate. Too accurate to tell you here just what he’s into. Yes, he’s into the San Francisco 49ers, too, but he’s into a few other things I didn’t know about. Now I can get him that perfect gift. All because he shared his life with Facebook. UPDATE: Etsy wrote a blog post about how they made that.

Now, what will Facebook soon know about people because of Frictionless Sharing? A lot more than it knows today.

The freaky line is about to move. Are you ready?

UPDATE: this has gotten a big conversation going on Google+ here and on Facebook here.