Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fishing for shares

Content sites are now fishing for shares. Not stock shares. Not market share. Social media "shares."

They are making their sites less interactive and less fun as a direct consequence1 of their efforts to boost social media "sharing" of their content. My interpretation of their new philosophy is: If you don't "share" it, you don't count.

Many sites previously allowed you to "Like" and "Dislike" posts, or vote on a scale of 1-5, and they kept a running tally of all user votes. Voting was fun and easy.

Now the trend is to remove voting (or making it harder to access) and only leave only the "Share" option, in hopes that you will want to do something to promote great posts, and so will share it and bring in more site traffic.

I'll make an example of Cheezburger's "Daily Squee".2 They have removed voting capabilities from both the main feed and the individual posts. You can only "vote" by sharing on Facebook, so if you don’t have a Facebook account, your vote doesn't matter. (Here, and here they announced the change from voting to Facebook sharing. Check out the user reaction thus far.) And if you really want to vote for a cute cat picture, you're instantly sharing it with your hundreds of friends, acquaintances, family members, and stalkers. You can still "Like" it, but that is also linked to your Facebook profile.2.5 Nothing like the anonymous "Like" button.

Let's also make an example of Google Reader. In its glory days, clicking "Like" was just a vote, and clicking "Share" shared it with your followers (I had 7). Now, clicking "Like" shares a post on your Google Plus (G+) wall for everyone3 to see, and clicking "Share" requires you to pick which G+ circles to share it with. Too many additional clicks, and some of my "followers" aren't also in my circles. This destroyed the social value of Reader for me. Yes, that's right, making it more social destroyed its social value. I don't want to spam my friends. People following me on Reader had self-selected into that.

What about the bottom line: are sites improving their traffic and making more money? It may be too soon for an answer. But I do know that good Cheezburger posts used to get hundreds or thousands of votes, and are now getting fewer than 30 Facebook shares. Run-of-the-mill posts receive fewer than ten. Something truly epic still garners a mere 72 Facebook shares (as of this post). In other words, site owners are actually choosing to make their sites less interactive! If they don't care about my input, I'll visit less.

I hate it, and the only thing I can do about it is deprive them of ad revenue. Ironically, that means using Google Reader4 to view Failbook and Daily Squee without the ads.

1 I think it's a conscious decision, rather than an unintended consequence. Unless these sites are managed by trained monkeys, they ran the numbers and chose the increased ad money from more social media "shares" over site interactivity. I also think they just wanted to change something, and ended up changing something that was working.
2 So, I like cute animals. What's it to ya? Don't give me that look. I'll fightcha.
2.5 You know they only value Shares, because they don't use the "Like" function for voting. (I didn't want to change the footnote order after the fact, so you get #2.5.)
3 If you post something on G+, and nobody is there to read it, did your personal worth just decrease?
4 There's nothing I can do to hurt Google except buy Apple products, and that would hurt my finances far, far more than it would hurt Google's.


  1. Some of us only read things for content. I may like it, but that doesn't mean I will "Like it". I am even less likely to share it. The whole process makes me like facebook less and less. I got on to find friends and talk to family, both of which I accomplished. The rest is just distractions and abnoxious.

  2. As a direct result of my posting this blog entry (as best as I can tell), the Google Plus "+1" button is now a full-on "Share" button, making you pick your audience, and letting you add text.

    In related news, the "Share" button does exactly the same thing, and is still there.