Mark Trapp

All Likes Are Not Created Equal

Recently, Facebook released a feature in its news feed that allows people to “like” news feed items. As it’s described by Facebook’s program manager Leah Pearlman, the feature allows you to tell your friends you approve of what they posted:

This is similar to how you might rate a restaurant on a reviews site. If you go to the restaurant and have a great time, you may want to rate it 5 stars. But if you had a particularly delicious dish there and want to rave about it, you can write a review detailing what you liked about the restaurant. We think of the new “Like” feature to be the stars, and the comments to be the review.

This feature prima face copies FriendFeed’s “like” functionality, right down to the interaction and the verbage. Not surprisingly, FriendFeed’s supporters were outraged and appalled at Facebook’s Machievellian drive to copy FriendFeed. But I think it’s important to take a step back and talk about the value of a “like”.

“This is interesting” vs. “I approve of this”

What most people seem to miss in the analysis of Facebook’s latest feature is how different it is, in both intent and implementation, from FriendFeed’s feature. It uses the same word, and lets the poster know you liked the story, but FriendFeed does something more: it shares that story to everyone that’s subscribed to you.

Why is this important? FriendFeed’s like acts as a means to rapidly disseminate things you find interesting with people. Think about Robert Scoble’s 2,000-hour project: he’s not just telling all those people that he approves of what they posted, he’s telling his 20,000+ followers that they should check it out because Robert finds it interesting. That’s true power and knowledge sharing.

Facebook’s implementation of the “like” is for one thing only: to tell your friend (and others) that you approve of what your friend posted. While it makes you and your friend feel good, what value does it have to the social aspect of the news feed? If you like the story so much, wouldn’t you want to share it with people?

Think about a real life interaction: say your best friend tells you they just got engaged. That’s important! I’d be telling everyone about it. But Facebook doesn’t capture that. It lets you tell your friend “cool.” and walk away. I guess there’s a small token value to that, but it’s not capturing an important part of the power of social media.

FriendFeed’s Like is Safe

What’s great for FriendFeed about this difference is that this isn’t merely an oversight of Facebook, to be corrected later. Facebook’s privacy culture, which holds people’s privacy as sacrosanct, prevents the FriendFeed like from ever occurring. While it’s great for the average Facebooker concerned about privacy, it relegates Facebook’s offering to a mere novelty gimmick, destined to the same fate as the superpoke.

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