"Did you read that thing in Mother Jones about eco-chairs and eco-ways to sit?"
About 20 pixels above this sentence sits a row of buttons, offering you the option of tweeting or liking or +1ing (really) this post. These buttons are as near to ubiquitous as things get on the internet - "share buttons" that invite you to spread content to your own social networks. Many of my tweets are just links to articles I have enjoyed. There is an easy fluidity in tweeting an article through these buttons, though I will copy+paste if I have to.
These buttons have such ubiquity that is somewhat jarring when you can't find them.*
As an example, NSFW Corp is a online magazine which I pay $3 a month for. The name is stupid but it's a fun read, kind of like Slate for a younger audience. The entire site is paywalled, or appears to be. How do you reconcile this with share buttons? For the first few weeks of reading NSFW Corp I just looked for a share button aimlessly on every good article I read, and I kind of started to resent them for not having them. Of course, it's their content and they can present it however they want, but my impulse to share things I like (Twitter mostly) has become so ingrained that I felt kind of put out. I realised I wasn't going to the site as much as I could be, visiting every fortnight to find three or four articles, which seemed silly given I was paying for it.
This reveals the conflicting nature of paywall-based sites in a social media based internet - how can content go viral if only a few people who pay can see it? The New York Times gets around this by offering 10 free articles a month and by letting any incoming link from Twitter or Facebook in automatically. This isn't as much of an option for smaller sites, but NSFW Corp has semi-imitated them with a new feature. If you want to share an article, you can, but it counts as one of your 10 "unlocks" for the month, and the link it gives you expires after 48 hours. This is an interesting way to get past the conflict, and I foresee it being used more and more as the web becomes increasingly paywalled.
I would always hope that great content will break through, regardless of whether you can tweet it or not - it's still not really possible to tweet a great scene from a film you are watching, and it shouldn't be. Still, it's stupid but it really annoys me when I can't find a tweet button. How important are share buttons to you, a nice-to-have or an essential feature?
* Occasionally the website is just living in the past, of course, in which case you can copy-paste the link to the network of your choosing.
** If you ever really need a New York Times article, search Twitter for the headline. Smaller publications can't really do this though.
The opening quote is from this Portlandia sketch
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