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OPLIN 4Cast #282: Social readers fail?

Posted in 4cast

Before you start worrying, we’re not talking about people who read together in “social” book clubs; today we’re talking about social reader apps on Facebook. These apps let you read news items and blog postings, as well as comment on them, without leaving Facebook. Some choose news items for you based on your Facebook information or on topics that are trending among your friends. Many also share what you’ve been reading with your friends. They’ve been around for about a year and have been most widely offered by newspapers, which use them to boost readership. But now some data suggests that their popularity is falling rapidly.

  • How to save social readers from extinction (Fortune/Alex Konrad)  “Like a twenty-first century version of the loud-mouthed newsy on the corner, readers from the likes of The Guardian and The Washington Post allow users to peruse articles while sharing their literary habits with friends and contacts on Facebook. That’s all well and good when you’re reading a sober, in-depth analysis of super-PAC financing, for instance. But broadcasting that diversionary gallery of Lindsay Lohan’s evolving locks? Not so much.”
  • Facebook social readers are all collapsing (BuzzFeed/John Herrman)  “My brain already associates those little blocks of auto-fed stories with second-class content. I mean, I know my friends didn’t really mean to show it to me. Why would I click? And god, why would I sign up for the thing that seems to have tricked its way into my timeline? It’s an app that broadcasts internet illiteracy for everyone to see.”
  • Privacy perils of social reading (KurzweilAI News)  “[Privacy law expert Neil] Richards notes that the work of the American Libraries Association and its Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) offers an attractive solution to the problem of reader records. ‘The OIF has argued passionately and correctly for the importance of solitary reading as well as the ethical need for those who enable reading – librarians, but also Internet companies – to protect the privacy and confidentiality of reading records,’ he says.”
  • Data shows social readers have mixed results, but aren’t ‘collapsing’ (Inside Facebook/Brittany Darwell)  “Many users have complained about social reader applications, mostly those that require users to authorize the app and share their activity in order to read any article. We recommend developers add clear controls for users to decide what to share, when and with whom. There also seems to be a lack of explanation of what users gain from enabling this type of sharing.”

Popularity fact:
The Washington Post social reader was one of the first available and once had 17 million monthly users, but now has less than 10 million.