Rob Walker | Essays


A few ways to share, via AddThis

Sometimes, as we go through our digital days, it feels like everything we encounter on the Web or through mobile apps is optimized for sharing. This seems so normal now that I hadn’t really given much thought to it until a recent conversation with Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote. I interviewed Libin for a story on the personal-organization application’s notably devoted following, for Bloomberg Businessweek. That story is in the forthcoming issue, and just went online; you can read it here.

This is the bit that’s relevant to Libin’s thinking about the mania for share-focused digital design:

Evernote has always been aimed explicitly at the individual, and that’s been a core part of its appeal in an era where every new online product seems reflexively “social.”

“What you put in Facebook isn’t who you are,” says Libin. “It’s what you want some people to see. And what you put in LinkedIn is certainly not who you are; it’s what you want the professional world to see.” Libin suggests that the addiction to a particular strain of “viral” growth has led to a drastic overemphasis on digital design for extroversion. As a guy who describes himself as too introverted to win over his high school chess team, Libin says that’s an oversight. “What you put in Evernote is who you are,” he continues. “We used to say in the beginning that Evernote is not social. In fact, it’s antisocial; we don’t care about your friends.”    

Libin added that this attitude was "liberating," from a product-design perspective, but that bit got cut, as the article pursues other themes beyond this notion. But the idea of whether design-for-sharing has gotten out of hand is something I’ve continued to mull, outside the Evernote context.

Clearly introvert vs. extrovert is not a pure either/or proposition – most of us have some personal continuum. Just as clearly, enough of us are extroverted enough to make Facebook and Twitter into products that are judged to be extremely valuable.

But I think Libin is onto something worhtwhile in suggesting that digital design has become overly extroversion-focused. Consider something like Spotify. I remember becoming aware that it was taking off in the U.S. specifically because of items popping up in my “news” feed on Facebook: this or that friend was listening to The Smiths, or whatever, and I was being told about it because of Spotify. It seemed good for Spotify that I was aware of its use by my friends. On the other hand, I soon associated Spotify with the idea of broadcasting musical taste. Maybe that appeals to a certain number of people, and I certainly get why Spotify’s “sharing” functionality is good for its own brand recognition and good for advertising-driven social-media platforms whose business model depends on collecting data about users. But I wonder how many potential users either don’t care about that particular functionality — or even find it off-putting.

The point here is not to pick on Spotify (which has many other appealing attributes, etc.) but  rather to suggest that we’ve reached a point where it’s worth asking whether shareability has become a distraction from designing products that appeal to and serve not just marketers or venture investors — but users.

The Bloomberg BusinessWeek article takes a broader view of Evernote, its users, and its prospects, so check that out here.

And, hey, share it with your friends.  

Posted in: Technology

Comments [7]

At the very least all these sharing functionalities make for pretty awful GUI.

Rob Walker is consistent genius. Feels like he hits on what we're all thinking but aren't putting in words.

At this point, I don't think one or twenty handy ux social buttons staring back at me make content any more susceptible to sharing, really. If it's actually compelling and worth sharing, people find a way.

But if you'd like to share what's in your trash can, well, it's never been easier. See: BinCam as featured in WSJ

Braulio, ha, yes, agreed on that.
prs: I strongly agree with your second paragraph (and blushing over the first). And I read about the BinCam! That's really ... something.

Also: On Twitter somebody brought up Susan Cain, who wrote that very popular book on "the power of introverts." I have not read that book, though I did hear her interviewed somewhere once and thought she sounded quite smart. Anyway it may be relevant to anyone thinking about the underlying issues here. This is a TED talk she gave, which is probably a good summary of her main ideas? http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html
Rob Walker

This article is great. Mostly people will only share when they have an explicit reason to do so, mostly marketing or networking reasons. The silent majority i know of share maybe once and a while on facebook, and that's it. Excluding teeny boppers who share mostly justin bieber articles and bros sharing sports tweets, sharing is such a small proportion of internet behavior.
This reminds me of the new google glass video I see and how it is assumed that we will automatically externalize our private digital behavior to sharing among those around us. Nobody liked the dudes with the bluetooth talking device.
Mike Lowe

Some practices on the web are definitely over the top and highly manipulative; pop-ups and cheesy floats. But then again, having sharing buttons where they are not "obtrusively" visible shouldn't be too bad.

What is Overshareability anyway? This sounds like some German ancillary copyright law. What about the shareability of a Free and Open web? If we want to solve global problems (see Overview Effect) we need our ideas to enter the shared public domain ASAP. Thanks “!”
See: German Copyright Law Targets Google Links
Carl W. Smith

The latest entrant in the sharing universe: http://www.clickwithmenow.com. Props for including the buzzword "disruptive" in their description:

"Click With Me Now, Inc. is a web-based, SaaS application company that has created a disruptive, patent-pending product for everyday Internet users to instantly share their current web session with the friends, family members or advisors they trust—using a 1-click, no-download, no-cost solution."

Jobs | July 16