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Quora tweaks feature that shares user activity

Q&A portal Quora this week tweaked a feature that shared the content users looked at on the site with other site members.

According to product manager Sandra Liu Huang, the site received a lot of feedback from people who weren't comfortable with their activity being broadly shared with the people following them.

"So we're going to stop showing stories in feed about what people are viewing," she wrote.

The rest of the feature, known as Views, will remain in place; the only views that the site will record are from feeds, topic pages a user follows, and clicks on digest emails. Not included: anything a user reaches from searches, looking at other users' profiles, or any adult content.

Users can still delete any individual view, or turn off views from the settings page. Once the feature is turned off, all former views are hidden, and the user can no longer share new views or access those from other members.

Feedback left on Huang's blog entry continued to criticise the site.

User David Rose said he is glad the question-and-answer site is listening, "but I personally still think that this was, unfortunately, a misbegotten idea in the first place, and the whole thing should just be dropped."

Views was introduced earlier this month, with the intention of connecting users to new information through other people. When you follow someone on Quora, the topics and users they follow will guide you to new discoveries, Huang wrote in a 1 August blog entry.

Initially, a thumbnail photo of the user appeared on any given question's Views page once they clicked on the question link, with the explanation of how that user got to that content – via a specific topic, or another user.

"I am pretty [annoyed] about this despite the fact that you have reverted it," user Dhruv Matani wrote on Tuesday's blog post. Matani argued that the current defaults don't matter as much as Quora valuing site promotion over user privacy.

Patrick Breitenbach agreed, commenting today that the change is worse, "because the data is still available only people are now less likely to find out their passive actions are being published."

Facebook's "open graph" has similarly been criticised for allowing companies to develop apps that automatically share user interactions on the social network once downloaded.

"Almost every product is better when you can experience it with friends," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during July's earnings call.

Still, a focus at Facebook going forward will be how to give people "more tools" to control how they share their information on open graph, Zuckerberg said. It's one of several "complex problems that will take time to work out."