Monday, July 11, 2011

To Like, or Not to Like?

What does it mean to “like” something online? That designation was vague from the get-go, and with the power-punch of overzealous marketing and social media campaigning, we've become veritable liking machines. Every post has a heart, a thumbs-up, or a plus sign next to it, and after it gets published (whether it's a sentence or a full article), there's StumbleUpon, Tumblr reblogging, and Google +, in addition to standard Twitter retweeting and Facebook liking. My brain hurts already…

In reaction to our increasingly noncommittal “liking” trend, Neil Strauss of the Wall Street Journal mourns the loss of the real online opinion. Gone are the those pioneer days of internet nonconformity, which Strauss blames on a blend of general development and advertising, served with dashes of greed and the ever-present search for “opportunity.” Plus, the internet's gone the way of approval-seeking and of time-wasting, he adds. It isn't only the lack of comments and the bland “+1” labels that reek of herd mentality, but the time-suck of retweeting and view counting that could be funneled into worthwhile internet activity – say actually opining in the comment box.

Lest you write off this post as the ranting of a disillusioned blogger, remember last year's drama when Facebook changed its previously-titled “fan” system to the maligned “like.” Critics also rallied against the switch from “Old Facebook,” but this was something different. Instead of aesthetics, this was about definitions - and clever marketing tactics. In Facebook's case, studies showed that people were twice as likely to click “Like” rather than “Become a Fan,” and that's most likely because the word is nonthreatening, bland, and well, noncommittal. Is that the definition of engagement? Um, no.

Sarah Jacobsson, in a PCWorld article, expounded her issues with “liking” things on Facebook: Link“'Liking' something on Facebook is a quick, easy way to acknowledge something—give it props, say—without having to be involved at all. […] Facebook seems to think that it's the language that's stopping me -- and that I view 'liking' something as less involvement and therefore easier to click on than 'becoming a fan' of something. This, at least, is true -- I do view 'liking' something as less threatening than 'becoming a fan' of something. But that's because it is true.”So really, “liking” is a very lazy direction to take when it comes to online interaction.

Think about it from the other end: if you're publishing an article that took you hours, would you rather see 50 “like” clicks, or 50 comments on the content you've produced?

That question should be a no-brainer, much like the act of “liking” itself.

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