What motivation(s) does Stack Exchange have for social media sharing?

Is it:

  1. To enhance the experience of the person viewing the page?
  2. To increase the number of people visiting Stack Exchange?

If the motivation is number 2, then I could see why it's not possible to turn off social media sharing. We need more people in the community, and more people viewing our advertising, whether you like it or not!

If the motivation is number 1, then the main reason not to make it configurable would be that it means more work for the developers, and one more thing for users to configure.

Background: Hide all those damn social buttons and links!

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    Every configuration option more means one more database hit on each page load, or similar. – Paŭlo Ebermann Sep 7 '11 at 0:55
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    @Paŭlo: It would surprise me if they don't store it in the session. – BalusC Sep 7 '11 at 2:04
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    The real question is: Has anyone actually used the social media sharing links ever? A straw poll of several SO users I know says no. – Flexo Sep 7 '11 at 16:21
  • @awoodland: Well, personally I haven't ever used the links (and won't ever do it), but it appears that quite a few people would like these buttons on SOFU, too. – Hendrik Vogt Sep 7 '11 at 17:04
  • @awoodland I've used them. shrug – Adam Lear Sep 7 '11 at 18:15

Here's a third point: Seeing what questions get shared shows us what questions have the furthest reach. This ties in with Anonymous user feedback now in testing. Imagine there's question that lots of people care about – we can take that data and

  • could give incentives for keeping those far-reaching pages up-to-date,
  • could see discrepancies between voting and actual "usefulness" of a question, draw conclusions from that, and improve the voting system,
  • could look at what kind of questions are important to many people, what they have in common, and draw conclusions from that,
  • et cetera.

This somewhat correlates with your point 1, since making it easy for people to share questions they consider useful also makes it more likely that they do.

Your point 2 is probably more important for the smaller sites; Stack Overflow itself certainly doesn't have to complain about a lack of page views.

Regarding configurability: It's well-known that we're very careful about user preferences. We don't want to become Quora.

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    Actually, as I'm not using any of these social services, the buttons are not really useful for me. I could use a link/button to post it on my tumblr-account, though. – Paŭlo Ebermann Sep 7 '11 at 16:50
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    The questions that lots of people care about are how CSS triangles work and pointless JavaScript obscurities - generally things that are of no actual use to any real programmer. Very few of the "ridiculously popular" questions (i.e. the ones that get shared) are actually useful or "matter" to anyone in a non-entertainment sense. – Justin Sep 7 '11 at 21:49
  • @Kragen I'm sure you're basing that claim on extensive research and analysis. Unbiased and including elimination of outliers, of course. Maybe you could share your data? – balpha Sep 8 '11 at 2:58
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    Sure. Just have a quick scan through that list and pick out the ones that are actually useful as opposed to just interview questions or discussions about why certain language features exist. Notice how the further down that list you go the more useful the questions become. – Justin Sep 8 '11 at 8:41
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    Now take a look through the list of unanswered questions. How many of those questions were shared on Facebook? Have a quick look through these questions - these are all well-written constructive questions based on actual problems people are trying to solve. Far-reaching == Entertaining != Useful. – Justin Sep 8 '11 at 8:48
  • +0 but accepting. I don't "like" the answer, but accept it as your rationale. – Andrew Grimm Sep 13 '11 at 3:56

I imagine that it's 2. It makes at least somewhat sense on the more human and social SE sites which needs some more attention, love and recognition from the world wide web visitors.

But on Stack Overflow with all those asocial programmers? I don't know.

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    I recently found out that some programmers have feelings too. – Jin Sep 7 '11 at 5:03
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    @Jin, my friend, that's why you're a designer ;) – BalusC Sep 7 '11 at 5:06

Because SE is a business and users coming to SE equals profits - whether you like it or not.

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    Traffic is usually a good thing for the community, too. We're not exactly a completely money-centric company you know. – Grace Note Sep 7 '11 at 15:53
  • @Grace: I agree; but you have to keep the lights on. Sharing questions and answers via Facebook expands the network beyond simple Google searches. – Engineer2021 Sep 7 '11 at 16:01
  • We like all forms of expansion. Social links are one way, but think about the badges like Announcer, which can work with any form of linksharing. Forums, bulletin boards... social media links are more of a convenience than a sole factor. – Grace Note Sep 7 '11 at 16:04
  • @Grace: Don't fool yourself; if it was really all about great questions, then the site would be a non-profit. – Engineer2021 Sep 7 '11 at 16:13
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    Actually, every feature on one of these sites (and even their existence) is ultimately for profit. This still does not exclude having other, intermediary goals (like growing the communities, getting feedback, making it comfortable for users), as these finally help giving profit. And it is not useful to answer all "why" questions here with "for profit" - the more interesting question is "what immediate goal do these features have". – Paŭlo Ebermann Sep 7 '11 at 16:56

I've got to say that I find the whole "Like us on Facebook" fad amusingly pointless. Admittedly it does make a tad more sense on Stack Overflow than it does say for your supermarket or bank (who "likes" their bank!?!), but it still doesn't really make any sense.

  • -1 We don't have like buttons, and certainly don't plan to. – balpha Sep 7 '11 at 17:33
  • @balpha: What's the difference if it is posted to facebook and then liked? – Engineer2021 Sep 7 '11 at 18:09
  • @0A0D Then the "like" probably applies to the post rather than SO/SE as an entity. There's a difference. – Adam Lear Sep 7 '11 at 18:16
  • @balpha But you do have Facebook buttons, and what does Stack Exchange have to do with either faces, books, or social media in general? – Justin Sep 7 '11 at 21:40

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