Are Facebook’s ‘Social Readers’ dying? Let’s hope so.

People are bailing in droves from apps that tell everyone what you're reading or watching on Facebook. It's about time.

Here’s something I really hate about Facebook.

Someone shares an article or video on my News Feed, it looks interesting, I click on the link, and suddenly I’m forced to download and install an app that tells everyone else what I happen to be reading or watching.

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All I wanted to do was watch that damned video. I’m not asking to go steady. It’s a one night stand, not a relationship. Slam bam and don’t let the video window hit you as it’s closing.

So it is with a certain amount of glee I read today that millions of others agree with me. John Herrman at Buzzfeed reports that Social Reader apps are flailing miserably as users flee them in droves. The Washington Post alone lost 4.3 million users in the space of a week.

Why? AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka summed it up in less than half a tweet: “Terrible idea, badly executed.”

Even the inescapable Robert Scoble, who likes just about anything with bits attached to it, says he’s using the Social Reader apps less and less. That’s a death knell for anyone hoping that viral social apps are going to save them.

Unfortunately this is also bad news for worthy publications like the Washington Post and the UK’s Guardian, and services I love like Pandora. Apps like SocialCam, Viddy, or DailyMotion? They could disappear tomorrow and the world would be a better place.

The brilliant Matt Inman, aka The Oatmeal, boils it down quite nicely:

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To summarize: Companies are alienating potential customers and shooting themselves in both feet by oversharing – or, more accurately, making the Zuckerberg-like assumption that people really want to share that much, and then forcing them to go along with it on a wholesale basis.

Not everyone agrees with this hypothesis. Josh Constine at TechCrunch maintains it’s because Facebook changed how it displays “trending articles” on people’s News Feeds. And Ryan Y. Kellett, the Washington Post’s “engagement producer,” concurs (I think). Let’s see if you can parse out the meaning of this tweet:

Social reader "collapse" is b/c of evolving FB modules. Before: "double-double," 4-5 stories down in a list, w/ friend icon - drove growth.

That might explain why Social Reader apps are no longer growing so explosively, like they used to. It doesn’t explain why people are jumping ship like they just rammed an iceberg, or the “Hallelujah!” chorus that sprang up on Twitter and Facebook to the news of social reading's imminent demise.

It’s simple, really. People are willing to share certain bits of their lives with certain people, online or otherwise, but they want to be the ones who control what information is shared, and with whom.

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The fact that I clicked on a stupid video for 5 seconds and quickly closed that window doesn’t mean a) I’m “watching” that video, as SocialCam seems to think I am, or 2) that I want to share everything I’m doing with everybody, all the time.

Companies that want to succeed in the social media world would do well to remember that. Somehow, though, I doubt they will.

Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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