There's a lot of buzz going around about "frictionless sharing" and how it's going to transform the way we interact on the web. The basic idea behind frictionless sharing is that everything is automated and pushed to your social network of choice based on what you are doing at a given moment in time. It's an interesting idea, and up until a few weeks ago I thought this was a really good idea. Removing the "work" involved in navigating to your social network of choice and posting a status update or photo breaks down some of the barriers that prevent people from sharing things with others. The problem with this (and it is a rather large one), is that "frictionless sharing" isn't really sharing at all, at least not the good kind.
What I didn't realize, and something that is hard to perceive if you aren't actively using a site that automates the sharing process, is that what makes sharing valuable is the work that goes into it. Or as Mike Loukides says in his excellent blog post "The End of Social":
"My Facebook feed is full of what friends are listening to, what friends are reading, etc. And frankly, I don't give a damn. I would care if they told me personally; I'd even care if they used a medium as semi-personal as Twitter. The effort required to tweet tells me that someone thought it was important. "
What he is saying is that removing the "friction" also removes the value. Social networks thrive because people are making conscious decisions to share something with their network based on how they are feeling or what they are thinking at a given moment of time. The value in this process comes from the decision and the effort required to push the information to your network. Without these barriers, sharing is deprived of its real value and feeds become nothing more than data repositories.
Here's an excerpt from Andrés Monroy-Hernández's blog post "In Defence of Friction" that sums things up nicely:
"In many scenarios, automation is quite useful, but with social interactions, removing friction can have a harmful effect on the social bonds established through friction itself."
A few days ago I was asked what type of web application I was interested in building. I thought about it and babbled for a few minutes before finally drifting towards something photography related. Part of this is that I've grown to love taking photos over this past year, but there's another reason - one that is more compelling and that reflects the power of the internet.
The internet is great at connecting people. It melts away long distances and geographical barriers. It lets us connect in real time without any delays. It even removes social barriers that would prevent communication and meaningful offline interactions. As a result, sharing is often at the heart of our online experience and our primary purpose for firing up a laptop or pulling out our phones.
Our need to connect results in a desire to express ourselves and our experiences. Since interactions are often happening in real time, we want to share our moments with other people. While it's possible to achieve this with text, it isn't easy. Photography makes it so much easier. There is no writing, there's not much thinking, it's just reacting to a experience and capturing a moment that moves us. People we share with are drawn into our daily lives and can feel as if they were there too. It's pretty powerful stuff.
This is what makes advances in mobile phone cameras exciting. They are always with us and they are becoming increasingly more capable of capturing what we see. Thousand dollar cameras are great, but irrelevant if I didn't decide to lug it around with me or if it prevents me from capturing people off guard in their most "real" moments. If you don't believe me, look at the explosive growth of mobile photo applications. They harnesses the power of the web and allow us to share in a meaningful way.
I still wouldn't give up my DSLR though :) There is a time and place for everything.