Here’s what people think about Twitter ‘likes’

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It’s been a little over 24 hours since Twitter replaced its star-clad favorite button with a like button that flashes a congratulatory heart when pressed. In that time the social network has been abuzz with comparisons to Facebook, complaints about the implications of a digital heart over a virtual star, and tongue-in-cheek calls for people to use star emoji instead of the like button.

Ultimately, only one thing matters: Does this make Twitter a better service? Switching button labels could prompt people to click ‘like’ more often, thus boosting engagement. But perhaps hitting ‘like’ will also lead to fewer retweets, which, in turn, could have its own set of changes. It’s a little early to tell how the switch to “likes” instead of “favorites” might affect the social network. It’s clear what the company wants to happen, and the most vocal of its existing users have made their opinions known, too. (I asked Twitter about some of these issues, and whether or not there’s been a difference in usage in the day since the switch, but have yet to hear back.)

That said, one of the most common complaints I’ve seen is that changing “favorite” to “like” makes it harder to use the button to communicate different ideas. The veneer of positivity implied by the jovial red heart has proven anathema to Twitter users who rely on sardonic lingo to communicate with each other. That’s hogwash; “like” isn’t more overtly positive than “favorite” used to be.

Another frequent complaint might be more valid: The idea that replacing a simple star with a heart — which has symbolized romantic love longer than it’s been an interaction tool on social networking platforms — could make it easier for men to harass women on the service. Twitter already has a harassment problem, and according to the backlash against the change, hearts won’t help.

I haven’t noticed a change in how I’m using this button. Besides the novelty of a new animation (who isn’t a sucker for hearts that pop into being?) this seems like another change that people will whine about and promptly forget. And it doesn’t matter what Twitter’s existing users think about the hearts: This is all about helping people new to the service feel a little more welcome.

That might actually be the biggest problem with the new “like” button. Much like other changes that make Twitter more scrutable to newcomers, from the redesigned profile pages to the updated conversation view, this changeup has Twitter users scared their playground of self-involved witticisms might soon be filled by people who are sincere and kind to each other. Oh, the humanity!

Those people might be in for a surprise. UserTesting found that many people (74 percent of those polled) liked the new hearts, whether it’s because of the animation that accompanies it or because they think it’s more user-friendly than the stars used to be. Another 16 percent of respondents didn’t care; only 10 percent preferred the old way. Most people won’t mourn these dead stars.

Of course, those findings are based on a 50-person survey. Maybe a different batch of 50 people would have different feelings. But I suspect the most damning finding — which is that 72 percent of people didn’t even notice the change until it was pointed out to them — won’t vary across different groups. Twitter’s core users are upset about something most people won’t even see.

Not that all of this will matter in a few days anyway. It’s only a matter of time before Twitter users move on with their lives and forget that a small icon was switched to another small icon with a different name. Call it Twitter’s stages of grief: anger; humor; acceptance; and forgetting anything ever happened. Eventually the service’s updates always win over users’ hearts and minds.

(Pun intended.)

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