Saturday, October 15, 2011

Facebook Social Reader

Facebook F8 launched a bunch of things.  One of the most interesting thing is social reading.

Basic idea is to share what you are reading automatically with your friends.  One way to think of it is to look over your friend's shoulder to see what they have been reading.  Except that it's better because you can go back and see what they have been reading even if it was months ago.

This creates interesting use cases.  It means that everyone who's reading articles using Social Reader is publishing their own reading list to all your connections.  No more need to publish your curated list.  What you read is what you are interested, and you are likely to curate out of what you read (one would hope).  This has potential to become the killer app for sharing articles.

Now for those Facebook old-timers this might remind them of Facebook's earlier attempt at auto-sharing user's activity.  Anyone remember Beacon?  Beacon, which tracked what people bought on websites like Amazon and automatically shared it with friends, had to be pulled due to privacy backlash.  So how is Facebook getting around that privacy concern?

Well, Facebook has added privacy control to let users control whether they want to share their activity.  But as you might expect this is opt-out option is buried deep inside the application setting control.  What Facebook is relying on is that users will realize that this sharing happens inside the application, Trove.  By installing the app, you as Facebook user is expected to acknowledge that what you read will be shared and tracked.

Yes, tracked.  That will be a gold mine for marketing folks who wanted to track not only what articles are popular, but also who read and how it passed along from one reader to another.  That's a powerful tool that would interest any publisher and marketing team.

What will be interesting is how people will react to sharing their reading habit.  No more anonymity.  Every article that you read on Social Reader will be available for all your friends to see.  It's like reading a magazine in your corner street cafe.  Except that it's a cafe where 800 million customers hang out, including colleagues, family members and, of course, your government.