Thursday, March 31, 2011

Don't Like This

Facebook is the third largest country in the world, as gurus of social media gleefully continue to point out. Which prompts me to misquote Uncle Joe:
How many divisions does Mark Zuckerburg have?
(Well, maybe there's thousands of US Marines updating their statuses in between jumping out of Humvees and shooting guns. That doesn't make Facebook itself a nation.) You don't pay anything to use Facebook. Up front. But as the axiom of the internet goes, if you're not paying for the product, you are the product.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and today Google is flattering Facebook by copying that wonderful blue 'Like' button. Now you can '+1' things on the web and other people will see that you like them.

So far, so good.

Well, so far, so what? If you believe in the wisdom of the crowds, jolly good. If you don't, you don't have to pay that any attention. But consider this: every time you click to like something, you're giving Facebook information, and you don't get that information back.

This becomes clear if you look at Facebook's guide to leaving Facebook - if you want to go, you can, and you can take all your photos and your friends with you, but you can't take what you like. Facebook keep that, and it must be something important to them because you can't get it out of them. If Facebook was Digg, or reddit, or another of those social meedja platforms that don't seem to do much these days, you'd be able to use your likes as a resource: what was that restaurant you liked last week that you can't remember the name of? What was the thing you were really excited by that you wanted to tell your friends all about? Facebook knows, but it's not telling.

Perhaps that's a bet it's taking on the ephemeral nature of the internet, that the lolcat you liked yesterday is nothing to you today. But those likes are all being stored, retained for when somebody wants to make money out of them.

"But I like liking things", you'll say. It's social glue, allowing you to show you care about your friends and what they post. Well, it's a poor caricature of social interaction, conveying only a single axis of emotion. Unless you're a sociopath, you can't like earthquakes or volcanoes. Facebook is unlikely to offer a 'dislike' option as more often than not, it would just be a utility to abuse people, so we're left without much nuance.

Either you're just pounding that like button when you have nothing to say, or it's expressing something meaningful, but either way, you don't have a way to stop yourself from being charged a future tax defined by Facebook through the things that you like. And as I keep saying, you don't get to see what you have liked.

Maybe some enterprising soul could write an app that you share your likes with and you could then extract them, but that's only making things worse - now you've had another party being given this vague window into your soul. And do you really want people being able to get exact answers for any approximate question they have about you?

What to do? You could try poisoning the well by liking everything, until the predictive value of a like tends to nothing. But because of that firehose of gumpf that gets spewed through status updates, you don't have much chance of doing this comprehensively. Maybe you should have left all those Farmville updates on after all.

Or you could stop liking things, and if you do actually feel some emotion about something on Facebook, and you want to express yourself, you could try writing a few words instead. It might not stop people expressing you as a node in their overarching social graph, but it might just make things a little bit slower for them to upload to the all-seeing-uberzuckerberg in the sky.

Anonymity has its benefits

Or perhaps I'm just bitter because I know I won't have enough people liking this post.


T.S.A.B. said...

I really liked this post. Pity there's no way to show it...

But sounds like "Like" buttons provide a valuable life lesson on how some things can't be undone / unsaid / unclicked.

Avalanche said...

Keep up the good work! I dare you to put both a like a dislike button on your site and count the clicks.

Post a Comment