Angry, Sad, Wow, Haha, Like and Love. Sarah Frier, reporting for Bloomberg Businessweek, wrote an excellent profile on Facebook’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox and upcoming Facebook Reactions. In addition to profiling Cox, Frier also underscores the whole story with Cox’s latest project: Facebook Reactions—an attempt to extend the ubiquitous and iconic blue thumbs-up:

The like button is the engine of Facebook and its most recognized symbol. A giant version of it adorns the entrance to the company’s campus in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook’s 1.6 billion users click on it more than 6 billion times a day—more frequently than people conduct searches on Google—which affects billions of advertising dollars each quarter. […] But the button is also a blunt, clumsy tool. Someone announces her divorce on the site, and friends grit their teeth and “like” it. There’s a devastating earthquake in Nepal, and invariably a few overeager clickers give it the ol’ thumbs-up. […]

The solution would eventually be named Reactions. It will arrive soon. And it will expand the range of Facebook-compatible human emotions from one to six.

The official Facebook Reactions are slated to take the form of: like, angry, sad, wow, haha, and love. Interestingly, there was supposed to be a seventh reaction, “yay,” but it got removed because, according to a Facebook spokesperson, “it was not universally understood.”

The idea of emotional reactions as a form of social currency isn’t anything new. Back in 2011, I was using Path, a closed social network for small groups, and loved their Reaction-style commenting. It made Facebook’s Like and Twitter’s Favorite buttons look both limiting and, for certain contexts, awkward.

Unlike Twitter’s recent foray into changing Favorites into Likes, which completely changed the context of the tweets being Favorited, Facebook isn’t removing the like button, only extending it. Capping the new emotion count to six also differentiates Reactions from Slack’s feature by the same name, which allows users to select any emoji as a reaction to a message.

However, as one of the most used applications in the world, I was curious how Facebook planned on addressing the UI implications of adding six new emotional options to every post. Again, Frier:

Zuckerberg had a solution: Just display the usual thumbs-up button under each post, but if someone on her smartphone presses down on it a little longer, the other options will reveal themselves. Cox’s team went with that and added animation to clarify their meaning, making the yellow emojis bounce and change expression. The angry one turns red, looking downward in rage, for example. Once people click their responses, the posts in News Feed show a tally of how many wows, hahas, and loves each generated.

Clever. I also anticipate that you’ll be able to tap on one of the displayed Reactions, to quickly go “me too,” as opposed to holding down the like button. There’s no mention of how you’ll interact with Reactions on the web version of Facebook, but I imagine that they’ll make the experience very similar to what they describe for mobile.

With 1.59 billion monthly active users in a world of seven billion people, no new feature for Facebook is small. Back to Frier:

This update may seem trivial. All it’s doing is increasing the number of clickable responses. People already comment on posts with emojis or, in some cases, actual words. But the feature will probably make Facebook even more addictive. And it will certainly give Cox’s team a lot more information to throw into the News Feed algorithm, thereby making the content more relevant to users—and, of course, to advertisers.

If I were an advertiser on Facebook, I’m not sure Reactions would make me excited. Nervous, maybe? Until now, advertisers on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, have only had to worry about negative, text-based comments. Any one-tap reactions were always positive. With Reactions, the whole game might change.

Consider seeing an ad for shoes that has 100 likes next to the image. Now imagine that same ad, but with 100 likes, 50 sad faces, 25 angry faces, and so on. Will advertisers have the ability to limit the type of reactions their content receives and displays? Additionally, what about users who are just plain annoyed with ads? Negative Reactions could be a visible form of retaliation.

But those issues are for Facebook and the advertisers to figure out. For the users, I think Reactions are going to be a huge hit. Look no further than the absolute explosion in popularity of stickers and emojis in messaging apps. Users like to quickly and visually reply with their emotional response, and Reactions is giving them six new ways to do so.

Update: A few readers have pointed out that another example of negative reactions appearing next to ads can be found on YouTube. Take this Apple ad for the iPhone 6s; located under the view count, there are 56,429 “I like this” thumbs-up and 9,065 thumbs-down. Not as visually distinct as Reactions will be, but still interesting. Also worth noting: viewers can’t vote (and therefore can’t see) any thumbs-up/down statistics on pre-video ads, which might be similar to how Facebook handles sidebar or Newsfeed advertisements.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

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