Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Google Says Forced “Sharing” Is a Bug, Not a Feature

Google is offering publishers a new tool that lets them force users to “share” a story before they read it themselves.

That can’t be right, can it?

Not exactly. That scenario is what Gawker’s Scott Kidder encountered when he read a story on Adweek’s site today, but that’s not what’s supposed to happen.

Instead, Kidder should have had a choice of filling out a one- or two-question survey or sharing the story on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

Bug, not a feature, says a Google spokesrep, via email:

Generally, Google Consumer Surveys are designed to show a market research question along with an alternate, publisher defined action, such as signing in or sharing a piece of content. Along with the surveys, we also offer a number of controls to prevent abuse of the system. Unfortunately, in rare cases, as a result of these controls, a prompt runs without a survey question included. This is not the intended behavior and we are currently working on a fix.

[UPDATE: This is now fixed, a Google rep says.]

Okay, fair enough. As far as the survey that AdWeek users are supposed to see, which acts as an ersatz pay wall by generating a small fee for AdWeek and Google every time someone fills it out: Annoying and a little clumsy, but not terrible.

I’ve read about the tool, and I’ve used it several times, but each time I encounter it I think something’s broken on the site. Then I remember what’s happening, make a couple of clicks without giving it a lick of thought — today’s survey was about professional medical supplies, I think, but I really have no idea — and move on.

Hard to see how this is useful for the survey sponsor, but I’ve always found online sponsor polls to be baffling. So perhaps it’s a less-bad option.

In any case, it’s a couple of clicks, so I’d prefer that to having Adweek crap up their site with slideshows, or forcing me to make lots of clicks to read a one-page story, which happens all over the Web these days. I also prefer it to Facebook’s “frictionless sharing” via “social readers,” which end up automatically belching up my friends’ reading habits into my feed, whether or not either of us wanted that to happen.

And in the big picture, unless the site you like is using the “borrow money from investors, pay back by selling to Facebook” plan, you’re always going to end up paying something to use it.

Either you pull out your credit card, or you lend them your eyeballs so they can rent them out to advertisers. And if you don’t like those options, you’re going to end up with a much emptier Web.


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