The Good and Bad of Facebook "Like"

I have mixed feelings for the Facebook "Like" button.

In the Facebook universe, "like" is the uniform mechanism for interacting with various pieces of content flowing around. You can Like status updates, photos, comments on updates and photos, Pages and even ads! One interaction to rule them all. The reasoning behind it is that it reduces friction and leads to more people clicking on the like button. This is what Facebook would want the users to do. But what does it mean for us? How do you feel about coloring the whole world in the 2 colors of "like" and .. well, "no comments"?

From the perspective of somebody who likes the human languages a lot, it is distressing. One feature of human languages is that they are wonderfully precise. The variety of expressions and words available to describe very similar but distinct actions, feelings, things is not only useful but also charming. And this precision is very selective. Different cultures develop these fine grained vocabularies for different aspects of life. For example, in Indian languages, most of the relatives get a unique term. Mama, chacha, tau, mausi, bua and others while English stops at cousins. Similarly, there are differences in how the spatial references are made depending on the kind of terrain the speakers mostly deal with. These distinctions make the use of the language more efficient. We can convey a lot more in fewer words.

As opposed to that, "like" is totally and utterly devoid of all contexts and subtle differences. When I see the 600 people like, I have no idea if they like the updates we put on the page, they like us because they worked with us or if they are in general appreciative of the idea. "I'm a Fan" is not much better but it at least teases apart those who simply like the idea from those who are actual users. You feel hesitant in clicking "I'm a Fan" for a good reason - you may not be a fan. You may only approve of the idea. But instead of getting a drop down with 2 options - "I'm a Fan", "I like the idea" - we go to only "Like". Isn't it ironical that we want more people to express more by making the very act of expressing yourself, dumb?

However I also like "Like" for a very different reason. Especially it's presence on the status updates and comments section. These days, many of us perpetually live in multiple long distance relationships - with our siblings, our parents, other relatives, our friends, batchmates, schoolmates. In another time, many of the relationships will simply wither away as geographical distances increased - Away from eyes, Away from heart was the saying. Now instead of those, we have these zombie like relationships which are given a shot of life one status update a time. Thanks to Facebook, the random trivia of our lives are being put to some use at least.

In a face to face relationship, there are a lot of things which cannot be replicated in the online medium. The approval you can read in your sister's eyes, the pat from you friend on the back, a little nod of the head - the unsaid things which matter so much. In the online medium, some of them convert into comments but most of the time, a comment is just too wordy. You just want to nod. Or wave. Or pat the person on his/her back. That is when I love the "like". It substitutes for all those social cues. When my friends "like" my moody status update from late night, it feels good. It feels like a hug and a pat on the back. And it is sufficiently understated unlike the obnoxious "hugs" and "kisses" you can send using third party apps.

Of course, it is unlikely that we will ever move to more sophisticated expression on the social networks. The only way is downwards from here. That is why I think it is important more then ever to heed PG's advice and write once in a while.

Update: Just as I published this post, Blogger prompted me to enable "Reactions" for the posts. What is "Reactions"? Well a "like" where you can define multiple options like "Agree", "Love It", "Hate It" and users can select anyone with a click. Now that was a wish fulfilled very quickly. I am beginning to "like" this Santa fellow! :)


Anonymous said…
excellent post
Gauraw said…
Looks like you forgot to enable "Responses" in the excitement of the wish being fulfilled so promptly! :)
abhaga said…
I did enable it but it is not showing up for some reason. May be it will appear only on future posts? Need to dig it more!

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