Facebook and Twitter: beyond the like/favorite binary?

There’s been a couple of developments with the social networks Facebook and Twitter that fit together quite nicely this week. The first is the news that Facebook likes make a huge difference in terms of what you see while browsing your news feed:

Wired writer Mat Honan found out what happens when you like every single thing that shows up in your Facebook feed. The results were dramatic: Instead of his friends’ updates, he saw more and more updates from brands and publishers. And, based on what he had liked most recently, Facebook’s algorithm made striking judgements about his political leanings, giving him huge numbers extremely right-wing or extremely left-wing posts. What’s more, all that liking made Honan’s own posts show up far more in his friends’ feeds — distorting their view of the world, too.

But Medium writer Elan Morgan tried the opposite experiment: Not liking anything on Facebook. Instead of pressing like, she wrote a few thoughtful words whenever she felt the need to express appreciation: “What a gorgeous shock of hair” or “Remember how we hid from your grandmother in the gazebo and smoked cigarettes?” The result, as you might guess, is just the opposite of Honan’s experience: Brand messages dwindled away and Facebook became a more relaxed, conversational place for Morgan.

The second piece of news is that Twitter is experimenting with changes to the way that ‘Favorites’ work:

Favorites have also been pseudo-private; while you can view a list of favorited tweets from an account’s profile page or on a tweet’s detail page, typically only the “favoriter” and the “favoritee” ever know about it. If Twitter starts surfacing favorited tweets in timelines, they’ve suddenly become far more public. The change — and the backlash — is somewhat similar to Facebook’s attempts to share just about everything “friends” did with Open Graph.

[…]

For those who have used Twitter for years, the change is so shocking it can seem like the company is completely ignorant to how its customers use the service. But even seasoned Twitter veterans should admit that the service’s core functionality is fairly arcane — it’s far from accessible to new users, and that’s a problem for Twitter.

What I find interesting is that most sites allow you to 'love’, 'like’, 'favourite’, ’+1’ or otherwise show your appreciation towards content. You can do this with Mozilla Webmaker too, when browsing the gallery. The trouble is that this is extremely limiting when it comes to data mining. If it’s used in conjunction with an algorithm to serve up content (not currently the case with Webmaker) then it’s a fairly blunt instrument.

There are some sites that have attempted to go beyond this. I’m thinking specifically of Bit.ly for Feelings, which allows you to share content that you don’t agree with. But there’s not a lot of great examples.

The trouble is, I guess, is that human emotions are complex, changeable and along three-dimensional analogue spectrum. Digital technologies, on the other hand - and particularly like/favorite buttons - are binary.


Update: after posting this I found that Yahoo! are planning to scan photos you publish on Tumblr to gauge brand sentiment. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse, to be honest!


Questions? Comments? I’m @dajbelshaw on Twitter, or you can email me at doug@mozillafoundation.org

 
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