I spend a lot of my waking hours with the Washington Post in my browser. Perhaps too many. Definitely too many. Anyways, I was startled yesterday to find a Facebook applet in the far right column where the ads would be if I didn't use AdBlockPlus on my work browser. I clicked around and found this press release touting the benefit of now being able to follow your Facebook friends' links to WaPo articles.
Today you will find a new home page feature, at the top right, that allows you to create a more personalized, social way to experience the news. We call it Network News.Only I don't want to see what WaPo articles my friends are recommending. I go to Facebook for that. And despite the blurb, it's not just the WaPo home page. It's every damn article they publish.
The new box highlights the washingtonpost.com articles, photos, blogs and other content most popular with Facebook users, who click a "Like" button to indicate their interest. The feature will also allow you to log into Facebook from washingtonpost.com and see what your friends have enjoyed on the Post's Web site. Similarly, if you are already logged into Facebook and visit washingtonpost.com, you will instantly see your friends' recommendations.
I find it very disconcerting to see a sidebar of Facebook avatars when I'm reading a news story. Not all Facebook icons are in good taste. Take two-time Pulitzer Prize winning fart joke writer Gene Weingarten. He uses the mug shot of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the World Trade Center attack mastermind with whom he shares a passing resemblance. At least Weingarten isn't using his Twitter soft-serve turd icon where the similarity is only metaphorical.
I immediately dashed off an angry e-mail to Raju Narisetti, the managing editor under whose name this announcement was made. The story got quickly amended with directions on how to "opt out". Only the directions are really just how to adjust your privacy settings. I keep my privacy settings buttoned down to Friends Only already, so I'm not in danger of my recommendations being broadcast to the world. And if my FB Friends like this widget and don't mind my goofy avatar all over their news stories, who am I to complain?
What I want is a way to turn the damn thing off. It's ugly and obtrusive. I do not want to see the Network News widget on my WaPo pages at all. Even if you are not logged into Facebook it feeds a stream of "Most Shared" links. Good for them. Just tell me how to get rid of it.
This is all part of Facebook's relentless privacy-destroying drive to be THE primary social network. Part of the allure of Facebook over other social sites was that it was a walled garden where only your relatives, classmates, and invited friends could find you. That guiding principle has been steadily eroded as Facebook has become more ubiquitous and pernicious. And WaPo is just the leading edge on this. Expect to see FB feed widgets festooned all over news sites and web pages and in pop-up ads for all I know.
To paraphrase Howard Beale, "I'm mad as hell, and I can't avoid it anymore." WaPo in its desperate pathetic attempt to remain relevant in the digital age has sold its soul to Mark Zuckerberg for the price of a cheap ugly applet. I don't know if they realize that by doing so, they have already capitulated. But they will. Facebook, or one of its successors, will eventually swalllow the Post whole. And right now, WaPo, like the cow at the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, is gleefully cutting off portions.
And while I am ranting about WaPo's shitty web design, in a complaint that smacks of "and the portions are so small", I have never gotten the comment applet on the news stories to work under Firefox on any platform, Windows or Mac. It so pains me to fire up IE just to read, let alone wade into, the festering cesspool that is the commentariat of most WaPo news stories that I avoid doing so as much as possible. Which is probably a good thing. But you would think that I am not the only one with this problem and that somewhere sometime some person in the bowels of WaPo's virtual sweatshop would want to fix this. But I guess not. When you outsource your web design to whomever with no concern over its functionality, you get what you deserve. Because as the Washington Post's radio ads ironically state, "if you don't get it, you just don't get it." And pretty soon the Post will be one of those things I just don't get anymore.