Of all the ways to express your opinion on some subject, I believe the “Like”, “+1” and similar buttons are some of the worst. Why? Well, nowadays “liking” something on the internet means little to nothing. People are asked to “like” things, “likes” are sold and bought as a product and not actually as a consequence on someone’s feelings on what one has seen/read/experienced, and now the quality of things seems to have become measured in the number of “likes”.
I usually say the “Like” button was the best invention for those that are so lazy that don’t want to write anything, or those so lazy that don’t want to create an opinion on a certain subject. It is also a great thing for those who don’t care about explaining why they “like”. The same argument is also true for “disliking”, on the places where that’s permitted. Those who have something to say will comment or reply, but “liking” is something so vague that adds little value.
It’s important to let people express their opinion on other Internet content in a meaningful way. Allowing users to comment and reply in an Internet that’s more and more made by its daily users is a good thing (that is, if you really promote freedom of speech). It perhaps even motivates people to think about things and form their own view on the subject, instead of just “liking” a view that’s being forced into their minds.
Imagine someone on the Internet says “WordPress is a really cool blogging tool”. You have the following options: you can either “Like” this statement, comment on it, or don’t give a s*** about it and move on. If you agree with the point of view stated, but have nothing to say on it, you’ll probably click the “Like” button. If you don’t agree, you’ll move on, or eventually post a short comment stating that you don’t agree. And if you are of those that actually wants to express an opinion and cares to write trying to use the language properly, you’ll comment. Now imagine you can’t comment… probably you’ll just move on.
If you comment and your comment is insightful, it will add value to an existing discussion or perhaps even start a new one. But those who “like”… what will happen? When you see “34 people like this”, do you have any idea of what those 34 people think? Did they “like” because they found it funny? Because that content was interesting? Because it was so wrong that it made one laugh? And who knows how many people didn’t like that content, specially when compared to something else? I think this need for comparison and ranking caused “likes” to be used as if they were a measurement unit, as I’ll explain later.
I even fear one day people living in a democracy will vote for their representatives by “liking” them. Knowing how many didn’t “like” any of the options is going to be hard. And you won’t know it was because none of the options suited them, or because they were ill in the elections day, or because they preferred going to the beach instead of voting, errm, “liking”. Knowing how many people “liked” twice can get hard too, but that’s easily fixed.
One more thing that illustrates the stupidity of the “Like” (or similar) button: it doesn’t exist in natural human communication. Well, it does exist, but it’s way more elaborated than a “Like”. Imagine you’re hanging out with your friends, in the pre-“Like”-button era, and one of them tells a joke. Nobody’s going to say “I like” without saying anything more. Since it was a joke, if one has found it funny, laughs will follow. And if it was really funny, one will laugh a lot (I also have my opinion on the LOL thing, but that’s for another post). And if the joke wasn’t funny at all, or the way it was told wasn’t good enough, one will at least smile, or say “Man, you’re not good at telling jokes”.
And another example: if you go to a restaurant and you enjoy the meal you ordered, it’s unlikely that you just say “Like”. Even if you only want to say you liked what you ate, there are many, many ways to say “Like”. Now if I want to be ultra-nerd, I can even say the “Like” button impoverishes people’s vocabulary. 🙂 So to conclude this point: at most, people have brought “I like this” into real-life communication after it became popular in the web – it didn’t exist in such a monotone and endlessly overused way before that.
I’m not saying the “Like” button isn’t useful – for the times when you actually like and there’s nothing else to say. The problem is, people became lazy and now they prefer to click a button than to write their opinion – sometimes because they don’t have any opinion, other times because it’s just easier to “Like”. Again, if I jump to extreme cases, the web might become something where some party says “1+2=5” and all there is to say is that “56,322,943 people like this”.
Now about the “Like” button as a measure of quality of things. If for a given “product X” there are 60000 likes on some social network and for another “product Y” there are only 2000 likes, people will often think “product X” is better than “product Y”. But those who will care about doing some research will find that “product Y” doesn’t contain “substance N”, which is really bad for health, while “product X” does contain it. “Product X” has more likes because it appeared first on that social network as part of an advertising campaign that costed millions. Conclusion: the number of people that “Like” something is worth nothing, even though at first it might look like so. Even because “likes” can often be bought: imagine that millionaire advertising campaign included buying 10000 “likes” to bootstrap it, and “liking” things becomes even more meaningless.
But the example doesn’t need to be about evil companies and products that are bad for health being advertised in a giant scale. You certainly know those people that ask for likes on their content. And those annoying “If you are happy, like this”-style messages. This happens in social networks in each other’s friends circles.
Oh, and another thing: “Like” buttons are used for tracking people whenever they go on the web. You can leave the “website X” that hosts a “Like” button, that as long as there is a “Like” button of that “website X” in any other page, the owners of that website can know you’re at that page. And I’m not dreaming, as you know, Facebook and other social networks do this.
This stupid “Like”/”+1” button is one of the many reasons why I deactivated my Facebook account some days ago. But this isn’t only about Facebook, it’s about everything sponsoring a “Like” button. (At least Twitter doesn’t have such a “feature”, hooray! 🙂 )
Putting short: yes, you can keep the “Like” button, but make sure people can comment – and I’d encourage them to comment and show their views on things whenever possible: I think it adds a lot more value to the Internet.
EDIT: looks like Facebook “Likes” aren’t speech protected by the US First Amendment.