Last week, Facebook celebrated the one year anniversary of the “like” button, the popular successor to the “fan” button, and the tip of the spear of its Open Graph gambit that it hopes will allow it to become the plumbing of the Web.
By any measure, the “like” button is a smash hit. It is served billions of times each day, and silently connects us to a vast array of our preferences, providing ongoing cues about who we are and with whom and what we choose to interact.
Physiologically, it takes exactly one click of one finger to click the “like” button. So it’s not exactly a blood oath. In many cases, the “like” button click is no more than digital bumper stickering, a casual statement of preference. But sometimes, it’s not.
Do We Have to Just Be Friends?
The problem with the “like” button is that there’s no way to have a second date. It’s a binary circumstance: you either “like” or you don’t. I can’t “like” a lot. I can’t “love”. I certainly can’t “adore”. I like the band Fleet Foxes. I love the band Radiohead. There’s a real difference in my passion for the two. But in the eyes of Facebook, my preference is the same. The “like” button has the exact same level of nuance as a light switch.
Imagine if other preference-driven interactions had the same on/off limitations. How would your Netflix recommendations look if you could only indicate whether you did or did not like a film? Would we all be getting a lot more “Dude, Where’s My Car?” showing up in our suggestions?
Long Distance News Feed Romance
I recognize that interactions with social objects in the form of additional “likes” and comments on specific status updates provide a measure of ongoing temperature control for your passions on Facebook. That’s how the Facebook EdgeRank formula works, governing what you see in your Top News stream versus what’s relegated to the less popular Most Recent (unedited) version of news.
The premise of EdgeRank is that if you’re truly passionate about something, you’ll most likely click “like” and/or comment on the status updates published by that something, giving Facebook a hint that they should definitely show you more of that publisher’s musings in the future, by automatically pushing it to your Top News stream.
But there are two huge flaws in that mechanism.
First, if I know from the get-go that I have inordinate passion for something, why can’t I put those cards on the table at the outset? Why can’t I click a “love” button that guarantees that everything published by Radiohead, or my wife, or my clients, or my favorite tequila brands will show up in my Top News?
Second, Facebook’s reliance upon my ongoing positive interactions with a publisher necessitate that publisher to be consistently good at Facebook. And that’s no gimmee. Lots of companies, organizations, and people struggle with striking a balance between engagement and promotion, frequency and relevancy. Radiohead is not very good at Facebook by most accounts. They rarely publish, and when they do it’s not in a way that tends to solicit a lot of interactions (which is the current best practice).
So, even though I’m a big fan and want to see whatever they write on Facebook, I may not see it because of Radiohead’s inferior use of the medium? The ability to subscribe to information should be under the control of the citizen, not the platform.
Help Me Love You
I realize that I could proactively visit the Radiohead Facebook page and see what’s happening on the Wall, but that again puts the burden on me, and is a behavior that conflicts with the overall Facebook ethos of “pushing” to me what is relevant via Top News and email alerts. And in fact, VERY few people go back to a company or organization Facebook page after liking it initially. Whatever ongoing interactions there may be overwhelmingly take place from within the user’s news feed.
The “like” button has changed the nature of social connection between people and things, and I wish it a Happy Birthday. But as we get pummeled by an invitation avalanche, with more and more and more and more things asking us to “like” them, why can’t we show some “love” as well?