digital scholarship

Levels of friction in sharing

Over the past week or so I've had a couple of twitter discussions around 'frictionless sharing'. Brian Kelly captured some of this discussion in Storify and then followed up with this post (like a dog with a bone, Brian has also created a wikipedia stub 🙂

The term has been somewhat corrupted by Facebook, which has inevitably led to it being rather sneered at. Particularly worrying I think is unintentional sharing, ie Facebook simply broadcasting your actions. Sharing should always be a conscious decision I feel. 

Pete Johnston made the point about context, which is another concern around frictionless sharing. Consider the following examples:

1) You 'favourite' a number of offensive tweets from people to be used in a talk about online behaviour.

2) Your daughter borrows your iPod and listens to some teeny bop music, which is displayed in your LastFM profile.

3) You collect a number of articles in Scoop.It which demonstrate fallacious arguments about the net generation.

In each case you wouldn't want the casual observer to infer any endorsement of the resources by yourself, but without any clear context, that could happen. Nonetheless, frictionless sharing represents a significant practice for academics I feel. Much of the value of a scholar is to be a knowledge filter. They are also knowledge creators, through research, of course, but a valuable role is to read around a subject in more detail than most people have time for, and to filter the key resources and messages. Thus if someone I know and respect curates a subject in Tumblr (or delicious, or Scoop.It or Mendeley) then having access to that set of resources is tremendously useful to me as a researcher. It doesn't mean I shouldn't do my own research, but knowing that this is what the world expert thinks is interesting, is a useful resource. And for anyone doing this the simplicity of the tools I mentioned (which usually equates to clicking on a bookmarklet) doesn't cost them much in time, effort or money. This can be seen as democratising this kind of knowledge. Previously I would need to know the person in order to find out what they thought was of value in their field, but now it's open to all.

This kind of trusted digital curation is increasingly valuable I feel, and one that is not easily recognised by current systems. Someone could be the key 'go-to' source because they spend a lot of time reading and filtering, but not publish anything themselves, and yet have a huge impact in their field. Stephen Downes is a good example of someone who is highly valued for this curation role, but he combines it with producing his own excellent material as well. But if he didn't and only did the filtering role, that would still be enormously valuable and yet difficult to recognise formally (imagine trying to put it through the REF in the UK).

I want to emphasise that this doesn't mean all sharing should be this way. I think we can see increasing levels of friction in sharing, and arguably, the value of the resource increases as more friction is added. In the chapter on openness in my Digital Scholar book, I suggest three degrees of sharing friction: 

  1. Frictionless – sharing that occurs without much additional effort required, for example, if a scholar is gathering resources for her own research, then using a social bookmarking tool is an effective tool for her as well as making the list public.

  2. Quick sharing – this requires a small level of effort, so does not occur simply as a by-product, but the effort required is minimal, such as sharing a link via Facebook or uploading a Powerpoint presentation to Slideshare.

  3. Content creation – this requires some effort to produce a digital artefact, for instance, creating a blog post, a YouTube movie, or adding and synchronising audio to a presentation to create a ‘slidecast’. The effort and expertise required are still relatively low compared to many traditional forms of output.





    I feel strongly that “frictionless” is something new and a bit scary which is distinct from your definition above. My rationale for this is the way the frictionless apps such as The Guardian work on facebook, inserting content into what appears to be (but is no longer, directly) a user-defined stream. While this is good for “sharing”, it is a new level and we should not devalue the term by merging it with what has gone before such as Like buttons or +1’s.

  • Martin

    I kind of feel the other way – frictionless sharing was a good way of describing this lightweight sharing long before FB appropriated the term. Now it’s become something sinister. Goddammit, we had it first! Reclaim it!


    Thanks for the link to my post.
    I agree with your comment that “frictionless sharing was a good way of describing this lightweight sharing long before FB appropriated the term”. If you’ve used the term in this context in your book, I’ll cite it in the Wikipedia entry – especially since it has been suggested that the article should be merged with the Facebook entry.
    However when you go on to suggest that we should “Reclaim it!” you don’t address the issue of possible confusion with those who equate the term with use in Facebook. I assume this is something we have to accept and part of the reclaiming of the term will be to promote the diversity of ways in which such sharing may be implemented – and also, as Pete Johnston pointed out, that not everyone will necessarily be happy with such sharing in all contexts.

  • Scott Leslie

    The practice you describe is a wonderful affordance of network-based life, that sharing can simply happen as a result of the act itself being digital and on the network. The term, on the other hand, makes me run straight for the nearest can of Neologism-Off, the new spray I’ve invented to repel terms like this.

  • mweller

    @Scott – yeah, I know what you mean. It has echoes of the whole frictionless economy thing in the dot com bubble which was another way of saying “I’m a knob”. But I do think it’s interesting as something that happens in academic practice, and has some profound(ish) implications for how we construct knowledge, do public engagement, form peer networks, communicate, etc. So I’m happy with it as a shorthand, just because you need some words to describe it. But maybe not as a buzzword

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