The Guardian scraps Facebook frictionless sharing app
The Guardian is scrapping some of the functionality within its much derided frictionless sharing Facebook app, in a seeming attempt to generate more direct traffic for its website. The app was launched in September last year, soon after Facebook’s F8 developer conference, which opened up Facebook as a platform. The Guardian were one one the first users of Facebook’s Open Graph system announced at that conference.
The app meant that users could read Guardian stories directly in Facebook, and the stories they were reading appeared in the newsfeed and ticker, and so where highlighted to reader’s friends.
Initially, it was a great success and The Guardian Facebook app was driving a million pageviews a day.
However, it quickly became obvious that there as a problem with this new generation of apps as frictionless sharing morphed from being talked about as the future of social media to being a road that everyone wanted to bypass.
By the Spring that trend of millions of pageviews went into sharp reverse and it indicated a very real problem with over-sharing.
People were getting annoyed by the sheer volume of stories appearing in their Facebook timelines and began to ditch it. That was in May. The surprise is that it lasted this long.
In a blogpost, The Guardian’s Anthony Sullivan notes:
The Facebook app has given us access to a hard to reach audience and has helped us learn much more about our new and existing readership which, as a digital first organisation, is crucial.
Sullivan goes on to say:
We have decided to switch our focus to creating more social participation for our users on our own core properties, beginning with guardian.co.uk.
The post says that the app peaked at 6 million active users in April this years. For an organisation desperately trying to earn money to keep afloat via its website losing that number of active users to another site is a huge problem. The notoriously closed nature of Facebook means that readers weren’t really seeing adverts within that app, meaning The Guardian’s business model was receiving no benefit from the additional eyeballs. Sullivan ends by saying:
At the Guardian, we take the view that we need to be in a position to work with platforms as they evolve, and with users as they explore new ways of interacting with our content. The way we prefer to do this is to experiment and learn what works.
From Monday, integration with Facebook will lead readers straight back to guardian.co.uk.
Facebook logins will still work within The Guardian, and continued integration means that users can still share posts they like from the site, it’s just now that the Guardian gets the direct traffic! The Guardian deserve praise for experimenting, but keeping people outside their property seemed an odd decision to make, whatever user data they could gather. A different approach has been taking by rival The Independent, who had the app work within their own site, not Facebook.
Martin Belam, the Guardian’s former Head of User Experience who worked on the app, has written a long blog posst about ‘The rise and #fail of the Guardian Facebook app’ on his blog where he talks about the apps’ problems, including frictionless sharing and the problematic user experience of signing up to the app. It is well worth a read as what he says tackles more than just the demise of the app, but also looks at how media organisations approach the sharing of content more generally.
“Were there problems with the approach of frictionless sharing? Absolutely. I think the initial launch in a blaze of glory, with recently read stories pinned to the top of everybody’s Facebook news feed, was clearly overkill to a lot of Facebook users. And the stories weren’t presented in the ideal way for news — a lack of timestamps allowed old news to propagate as if it had just happened, and a lack of thumbnail images blunted the appeal of human interest stories.”
To Belam the demise came as no surprise. Like many he has known that the writing has been on the wall for some time. He also says that changes Facebook made to its EdgeRank algorithm mean that “mean brands aren’t even guaranteed to reach all their fans when they post original content on their timeline, let alone reaching people with a frictionless share”.
However, he also says much has been learnt by going through the process and says in particular it highlights was how little news organisations do to really promote individual items of content. Content goes up, but much of it flies quickly out of the window almost unnoticed.
“They might link once to a piece in their Facebook or Twitter streams, but the rush and the push to fill the pages and the airwaves daily means that even feature pieces have a limited shelf-life. Something like the Jonathan Jones piece on a 9/11 photo was viewed around a million times within Facebook. The sharing may have been “frictionless”, but consuming the content still involved a click or two.
“When do news organisations ever set themselves the goal of getting the maximum possible number of views for a specific piece of content, and work it day after day?”
In the end he says the media has to try different approaches in order to work out the future, it has to evolve, and along the way their will be failures. This is clearly one of them. The future doesn’t always last as long as people might hope. Sometimes it is just an experiment.
But what is clear is that something is needed to allow media organisations to highlight individual items of content in a social manner and for consumers to find it. Frictionless sharing wasn’t it and another idea is needed.