Why I Hate Social Media, Part 386

| Fri Jun. 22, 2012 1:35 PM EDT

Why do I hate social media so much? I guess I'm just antisocial. (Seriously. I am.) But there's also this, from the Clay Shirky interview I just posted about:

Wired: What developments — companies, products, technologies, whatever — really get you excited right now?

Shirky: I don’t know if you’ve played with news.me, have you seen this thing?

Wired: No I haven’t.

Shirky: So news.me sits on top of bit.ly, and it also sits on top of your social graph in Twitter and it just forwards you the five most popular stories among everybody you follow, not based on the number of times the link was circulated, but the number of times individual people you follow clicked on that link. It really has become my favorite piece of email of the day. I’ve tried lots of curation services and have really been wrestling with the serendipity problem in one form or another in news since the 1990s, when I did some work with Walter Bender’s group up at MIT. And this is the first thing I’ve seen that’s actually done it.

That sounded kind of interesting, so I went over to News.me to sign up and try it. First they needed my email address. Fine. Then I had to add my Twitter account. Fine again. But here's what I had to allow the news.me folks to do:

  • Read Tweets from your timeline.
  • See who you follow, and follow new people.
  • Update your profile.
  • Post Tweets for you.

Say what? I have to give them the authority to update my profile and post tweets under my name? I don't know if this requirement is a News.me thing or a Twitter API thing, but it's ridiculous. Obviously they need read access to my timeline and followers in order to put together their custom-built compilation of news pieces and email them to me. But they don't need write access to my account. And they didn't get it. They still have my email address, though. I guess I'll never get that back from them.

Once again, though, I'm left scratching my chin. Am I wildly overreacting? Does no one care about this kind of thing anymore? Should I just shrug and let it go? Or is this every bit as intrusive as I think it is? Can someone under the age of 25 please help me out?

UPDATE: Mike Young, chief technology officer at News.me, replies in comments:

I wanted to try to explain why we ask for both read and write permissions for Twitter when signing up for News.me. You are right to give pause and be concerned with any applications that ask for this, but hopefully this will help explain things a bit.

When building a Twitter app, you can ask for (only) two sets of permissions: "read" and/or "write." The read part is obvious, as you mentioned — we collect the tweets in your stream throughout the day and display what we think are the most interesting stories for you in our daily email, as well as our iphone and ipad apps. We ask for "write" permissions to your account so that you can do things like share/tweet articles (or retweet) from our iPhone, iPad and upcoming web application. The only way to do this from any third-party Twitter application, like News.me, is if you authorize "write" access. Since News.me spans across email, iphone and ipad (and soon the web), we ask for both read and write access if you log in to News.me via any of those platforms.

One things to note: Twitter doesn't let you get more granular when you ask for "write" permissions like Facebook does. You noted that the Twitter dialog shows things like "this app can 'update your profile'" which we never do, or would ever want to do, but we can't tell Twitter that we don't want access to that. It's either all or nothing with Twitter. Facebook gives you much more granular controls so that, as a developer, you only ask for what you really need and it's very clear to the user which data the application will have access to. It's not the case with Twitter, but I believe that will change soon.

I hope this helps explain things a bit! We take this very seriously, and obviously have some work to do to make this more clear to our users. Happy to discuss further or answer any more questions here or on email.

Hmmm. I still think they could make write access optional for folks who don't care about retweeting from within their app. Still, that's the explanation and I wanted to pass it along.

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