Is it important to you to know what news articles your friends and acquaintances are looking at -- important enough that you're willing to have them know what articles you've been looking at? The Huffington Post thinks it is. This week, it unveiled a new application, HuffPost Social News, that uses Facebook's Connect platform to let users keep track of what the people they know are reading, saying and doing on the ultra-popular aggregation and blog site.
Some people think it's just swell. Over at The Big Money, Chadwick Matlin predicts that Social News, or something like it, will be "the future of journalism." "Killer apps like HuffPost Social are the kinds of things that sites need to make them must-reads," he writes.
Is that so? From what I've seen, HuffPo (I refuse to call it HuffPost, even though I know that's Arianna's preferred nickname for it) users aren't taking to Social News all that avidly. Of my 500-odd Facebook friends, only 31 have signed up for it so far. And most of those people either aren't looking at many stories on Huffpo, or else they've set their preferences to block the app from sharing their behavior with others. Just about all the stories in the "My Friends' Activity" stream are from Huffington Post employees.
Why would Social News users decline to share their behavior with the rest of the class? Perhaps for the same reasons that the introduction of Facebook's Beacon program caused such a revolt across the social network's user base. Beacon, which allowed Facebook to collect information about its members' activities on partner sites like Fandango and Zappos, was so unpopular that Facebook essentially pulled a 180 and scrapped the program within a couple weeks. It turned out that no one really wanted their friends to know what books they were buying or movies they were renting.
HuffPost Social has much the same problem. Maybe it's nice for me to know that you also read Dan Froomkin's column on government-provided health care so that we can discuss it. But if I've been filling my brain with trash about Octomom or Miley Cyrus's stripper act, I'd prefer to keep that to myself, thank you very much. If Huffpo wants Social News to catch on, it might have to tone down its shameless, tawdry pageview-goosing antics and put out a site we'll all be a little less embarrassed to have people watch us read.
Will Social News be Huffpo's Beacon?