It might be hard to imagine a time when Facebook did not have “like” buttons. In 2009, Facebook launched this feature and ever since has, to a degree, been defined by this simple form of interaction. In fact, a giant “like” button can be found at the company’s offices.
Since the introduction of the “like” button on Facebook, users have seemingly been clamoring for a “dislike” button to express negative opinions. Surely many can remember posts with dozens of comments that simply say, “dislike.” Unfortunately for Facebook’s users, such a button has never been added because the social network thought that it would make interactions between users too negative, Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox told Bloomberg Business. This is about the change, however, as Facebook gears up to launch a new feature called “reactions.” Facebook, although compared to other social networks such as Reddit and Yik Yak (which both offer downvote options), has decided to follow a different approach.
Reactions will not replace the “like” button, but will expand its capabilities. When users hold down on the “like” button for more than a second on their phones, a hidden menu will pop up with six different emoji-like icons: “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad,” “angry” and “like.” Just as with the “like” button, Facebook posts will show how many people have chosen each reaction at the bottom. In this way, likes will likely remain the dominant form of quick interaction on Facebook, but the other emotions will come in handy in certain circumstances.
I think everyone can remember a situation in which they have come across a Facebook post that you wanted to react to but for which the like button simply does not seem to fit. For instance, posts with political information usually end up with a large number of comments because friends who do not agree with the political viewpoint do not want to click the like button. The introduction of reactions should help in situations like these.
As many Facebook users can remember, its updates are usually not well-received by users, especially big changes. For instance, everyone remembers the time Facebook forced all its users to download its Messenger app after messaging capabilities were taken out of the normal Facebook app.
Facebook is trying to avoid these missteps with this launch and has put a lot of work into getting the reactions feature just right. It hired outside sociologists to understand the range of human emotions and how different cultures represent different emotions. It also had to work to reduce the extra clutter that comes with adding six new buttons. Late last year, the team thought that it had a product that could enter testing and it rolled out the new feature to Spain, Ireland, Chile, the Philippines, Portugal and Colombia. These countries served as a testbed and provided important feedback. For instance, Facebook initially was testing a seventh reaction, “yay,” but scrapped it after some of the users in the test countries were confused.
Reactions will roll out to all Facebook users in the United States in the coming weeks, and I think it will be a welcome improvement for quick reactions. While emoji-like buttons will never replace full replies, the new options will nonetheless help increase engagement on Facebook.