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We're All Likers Now: How Facebook's "Like" Is Just Awkward

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Facebook this week is trying to round up the stragglers who have not connected their interests, activities and “Things I Like” section to live links or pages on or off the social networking site. The company’s approach is a bit heavy-handed, threatening users that the basic profile information they provided is about to disappear (“If you don’t link to any Pages, the following sections on your profile will be empty.” Duh-duh-duh.) That’s because users’ interests, activities and likes are now by default public (you can change that here).

But what keeps tripping me up is how awkward the phrase “Things I Like” — and really all the terminology around Facebook’s new practice of “liking” — is. I can appreciate that Facebook is trying to define a new relationship between users and web content, but so far, it doesn’t quite work. You no longer “fan” pages directly on Facebook or by using its buttons around the web, you “like” them — so instead of being “fans” we’re now, what, “likers”? Now President Barack Obama, instead of having 8,231,685 Facebook fans, has “8,231,685 people [who] like this.” Just flows off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Facebook added the “like” button last year as a simple thumbs-up for items in its news feed, giving users an easy way to tell each other they appreciated their updates without going to the trouble of writing out words. The feature’s precedent was found in FriendFeed, the social web aggregation service Facebook later bought.

But “like” has now become a central metaphor of the Facebook experience and its efforts to make the whole web social. The 50,000-plus sites that have already added Facebook social plugins enable Facebook users to like a certain item or article directly on their site, which can then create a group of all the people who clicked to “like” something, and send them bulletins on that topic. In an example given when Facebook launched the features, you could “like” a certain NFL draft pick on, and then ESPN could in real time place an item in your Facebook news feed once he was chosen. So in a way, “like” means “subscribe.” It’s a deceptively simple word for the connection Facebook wants to establish (and control) between users and publishers.

Facebook is taking steps to control the language for its notion of “liking.” In its current terms of service, it warns developers not to use the word “like” in their own applications to prevent confusion.

“You must not use terms for Facebook features and functionality
(e.g., fan, feed, status, tag, like) in the name of your application,
any corresponding URL, or your application’s features and
functionality, if such use could confuse users into thinking that the
reference is to Facebook features or functionality of the same name.”

Meanwhile, users who appreciate symmetry say they want a “dislike” button. After all, if you can give kudos for the good in your friends’ lives, shouldn’t you be able to express sympathy for the bad? There’s a Firefox add-on that adds a dislike button to every item on Facebook (if your friends don’t have it installed, they see a comment that says “dislike” instead).

The inappropriateness of “liking” came to a head when Facebook introduced its social plugins last month. Clearly some sites are not going to put up with asking users to “like” things that are bad or tragic; there’s not *that* much schadenfreude in the world. So Facebook added a second vocabulary option for those who need an alternative: “recommend.” So for instance, this morning, you can click on a button to “recommend” the story “At least 27 dead as storms pound Southeast,” which seems a lot more appropriate than “liking” it. “Recommend” is not the opposite of “like” — you’re just saying a story is worth someone’s time. The two choices don’t seem particularly parallel — maybe Facebook should just allow developers to use a verb of their choice to express their users’ relationship to content. But that could be a throwback to the silly days of poking, pinching and throwing sheep at our Facebook friends.

With a little time, maybe “Things I Like,” “X People Like This,” and “liking” will become normal; Facebook certainly has enough reach to make it so. But for now, I just don’t like it.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my bio.

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22 Responses to “We're All Likers Now: How Facebook's "Like" Is Just Awkward”

  1. Thanks for the great article on the Facebook “Like” function. “Like” is a bit awkward. I think the fact that you can’t be “Disliked” is what keeps people logging back in though. It’s pretty safe and tame, so far….

  2. If you could dislike I’m sure these changes would be less annoying because then you could state your true opinion other than “like” or no opinion

  3. Good points.

    Yet another example of awkwardness are various notifications around formerly-known-as-fan pages:

    So far, the email notifications still read “XYZ has become a fan of [usually their own Page] and suggests you become a fan too.”

    Can’t wait to see what that gets changed into: “and suggests that you like it as well”… ?!?\

    Already we have this gem: “[name of page] You have been invited by XYZ_Friend. Do you like this?”

  4. I do believe that FB took liking backwards. At myLykes, we are going the other direction – adding more functionality and context to how you can like things on the web and in the real world. Funny as it may sound relative to the FB approach, we believe people actually want to express themselves and their individual tastes in their own way. Oh – and yes, we allow “disliking” too which actually happens in the real world.

    You can check out more of our thoughts at: where we opine more about why a simple “thumbs up” really doesn’t convey that much meaning to anyone.

  5. I hate “like.”

    I leave sites that use it.

    I never log into FB anymore, unless it’s a quick check; then, delete All cookies and browser history or restart Firefox. I refuse to provide FB with any data.

    FB has jumped the shark and has rendered itself meaningless, in it’s deluded quest to play with the Big Boys. If they’d only focused on their platform and created more value and terrific experiences, it would have lasted; but, focusing on tentacle spreading to expand “everywhere” simply dilutes them. Their Founders don’t have the talent to take it from Start Up to it’s next iteration.

    I only hope that “Like” is the beginning of the End for them.

  6. Larry

    They do need a ‘dislike’ button. If something has been viewed by say a million people, and 100 000 say they like it, it sort of looks good. Even though 900 000 didn’t like it, or not enough to click the like button.

  7. I guess the most appropriate word is ‘follow’. But yes, that’s already taken. Having said that, I just think FB messed it up here..They had a chance to bring a new word into the lexicon – just like twitter introduced ‘tweet’ to the world. Not only does it help in branding, it will also prevent people from such confusing sentences – ‘123 people like ‘I don’t like Facebook”

  8. mediasorcerer

    yeh,faecesbook are internet spies,the internet profile stealing big gov info gatherer, get a life,get off faecesbook !!!
    by the way,good article,thanks for your diligent summarisation,
    i dont “like” liking,like?what a wank!

  9. Facebook is simply crowdsourcing its search engine, building an index of clean pages, and taking on Google to the benefit of Microsoft’s Bing.

    Instead of building an expensive complex crawling algorithm like Google has, Facebook is building one powered by all of us using the “Like” button.

    The main advantage (apart from letting all the users crawl for you and build your database for free) is the quality of the content, as content shared by the Like button is about real users liking/recommending something, and they are less likely to Like/Recommend a spammy parasite website.
    It builds a “clean” search engine devoid of porn.
    Because who will “Like/Recommend” a porn site and thus publish it to your Facebook wall and broadcast it to the stream of all your friends?

    This will of course benefit Microsoft Bing, if you remember that Microsoft invested $240M in Facebook back in 2007

    More details here:

    • Smart take, though by your porn example, this will also further filter out ANYTHING that someone thinks their “friends” (real or otherwise) may find objectionable for ANY reason such as mere idea content. Thereby ending up with a censored, distorted view of the Web.

      This is less of a problem on a more wide-open graph like Friendfeed, where you could care less whether someone dislikes your “Like”.

      These finer semantic differences are BTW the same reason that Twitter’s NewRT design without room for commentary was so disappointing: It made an RT into a binary operation, where previously you could add nuance: “Food for thought…”, “I disagree but you still need to see this…”, etc.

  10. coolrepublica

    I hate that like button. It’s an all or nothing game. I used to rate videos on youtube but no more. I might not like it or hate it. What if it’s just ok? I want the old youtube back. The one where I knew if a video was any good. Now only Google gets to know.

    I hate facebook!