I usually prefer to actually read something before I decide if I want to share it with my friends. The Washington Post Social Reader removes the ability to make that choice, and that's why it's a bad thing.
It's like me saying, "Hey, I saw a flier for a band is called Archers of Loaf. You should really listen to them." If I haven't listened and decided for myself, I'm not going to make the recommendation, because I have no idea whether they're good or not.
With the Washington Post Social Reader (and other similar Facebook apps), the decision to share is made when the reader clicks the headline, rather than while the reader consumes the product. The headline essentially becomes the only traffic driver.
I know that you can privatize your settings on the Reader (I just did it), but they don't make it simple. It's a bit clunky. That's good for the Washington Post, because they benefit from reckless sharing on Facebook. (Stacks of printed paper don't pay for themselves).
I recently learned that Snooki reached her target weight of 98 pounds via the Social Reader. (This seems to be the app's content sweet spot). By reading that article, I also shared it with all of my friends.
The truth is, I click those kinds of articles regularly. I'm fine with sinking 30 seconds of time on occasion to satisfy my curiosity. I don't get consumed, but I am mildly intrigued by the garbage. I think it's partly so that I understand late night TV jokes and Bill Simmons podcast references.
I read a story last week about Kris Humphries and his ex, Kardashian.
I hadn't realized until reading that article that not all of the WPSR stories are actual Washington Post stories. This one was actually written by Wetpaint.com, a TV-gossip site that covers the Kardashians heavily. The first sentence was a mangled-up disaster, and it only slightly recovered from there.
Note: I make my fair share of typos. I know this. Here's my defense: First, those typos don't show up in the Washington Post. Second, at least the first sentence of the blog is coherent. That's all that most people read on the internet.
Here's a bit of that Humphries/Kardashian article. Imagine finding this in the actual Washington Post:
While the January 9 episode of Kourtney & Kim Take New York the one touted as the beginning of the end of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries 72-day marriage lit up small screens round the globe, Kris was at his computer typing some cryptic messages ... Kris tweet hit the Interweb right around the same time Kim was dropping this bomb on Momager Kris Jenner on-screen ... Cant get enough Kardashians gossip? Like us on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter!
Even better: I read a story a few days ago that said: Peyton Manning to Start at QB for the Redskins in 2012. You can see a screengrab of the story here.
Just about any football fan in the country would click that headline. And then every single one of them would want to pour coffee all over Michael Kun's keyboard (because he wrote the article) after reading the first line: "How's that for a headline? Got your attention, didn't it?"
Pouring coffee wouldn't do much, though. You'd have already shared the article.
Note: I realize that the Huffington Post and other sites have similar Facebook social readers. As soon as I feel like they're exploiting the social scene on the same level as the Washington Post, I'll jot it down.
Follow Justin Cox on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CoxJustin