When Facebook at long last filed its S-1 statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission in early 2012, announcing its plan to go public, the filing included a letter from Mark Zuckerberg. It was a curious document in the midst of the legalese and financial models: an earnest, plainspoken mix of media theory and hacker mythos. “Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It was built to accomplish a social mission—to make the world more open and connected.”
A more open and connected world? You’d have to be some kind of cynic or misanthrope to object to such a laudable goal. The problem is that for all his talk of connectedness, Zuckerberg and his company have displayed an increasingly reluctant attitude toward connecting with the rest of the web. The new “seamless sharing” updates make it much harder to follow a link from within Facebook to an outside page. If you see an interesting headline from, say, The Guardian that’s been shared by one of your friends, clicking on the link doesn’t take you to the Guardian website; instead, an “intercept” message pops up, asking you to install the Guardian Facebook app, which will then ensure that all of your favorite Guardian articles flow through Open Graph to your friends. On the tech blog Read Write Web, Marshall Kirkpatrick observed, “There’s something about the way that Facebook’s Seamless Sharing is implemented that violates a fundamental contract between web publishers and their users. When you see a headline posted as news and you click on it, you expect to be taken to the news story referenced in the headline text—not to a page prompting you to install software in your online social network account.” The blogger (and new Wired columnist) Anil Dash, enraged at Facebook’s misleadingly paranoid warnings to users who dare to venture out into the wild web, has gone so far as to suggest that Facebook is essentially malware—and that malware-blocking services should start warning users about Facebook in return.
This reluctance to link to the outside is, to say the least, hard to reconcile with Zuckerberg’s paean to open connection. Hyperlinks are the connective tissue of the online world; breaking them apart with solicitations to download apps may make it easier to share data passively with your friends, but the costs—severing the link itself and steering people away from unlit corners of the web—clearly outweigh the gains. Surely we can figure out a way to share seamlessly without killing off the seamless surfing that has done so much for us over the past two decades.