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How Backlash Is Fixing Facebook Social Readers

Social reading is the future. So how did the current crop of social readers become so reviled?

Posted on May 8, 2012, at 11:41 a.m. ET

This month's precipitous activity drop in Facebook Social Reader use was caused in part by changes to how Facebook displays their story modules. Josh Constine gets into the details on TechCrunch, but the Washington Post had already admitted as much. Whether the decline was caused by Facebook, by the common growth-peak-decline pattern of Open Graph apps or by plain old user disenchantment is tough to quantify. But one thing is clear: Social Readers as we know them have jumped the shark. People hate these things.

The response to yesterday's story was a universal cheer. Of the first 50 responses to the story on our Facebook page, one — one! — was positive. The rest ranged from "THANK GOD" to "Good Riddance" to "I hate them."

The general reaction on Twitter was at least as vitriolic:

Amazingly, the media reaction wasn't much better. Even people at companies with social reader products felt comfortable pointing out the decline. Narisetti works on News Corp's digital team and Heron is the "Director of Social Media and Engagement" at the WSJ. You can install their social reader (cough) here:

Abandon ship! Or something like that.

It's true that Facebook ultimately controls the traffic faucet for Social Reader apps, and that its changes appear to have slowed the flow in the last month.

But it's also becoming clear that this wasn't done on a whim, and that the traffic drop isn't a flukey side-effect. In grouping social reader stories in a less obtrusive module, Facebook was trying to fix something that its users already knew was broken, and doing damage control for a trend that's both reviled in its current form and ultimately essential — for both Facebook and publishers — in an improved one.

In other words, all that hatred and backlash against crappy social readers may have paved the way for the first good ones.

Update: Added a second tweet from Heron, for context