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The Social Media Clarity Podcast

Nov 24, 2015

Quantifying Empathy - Episode 23

image Twitter Hearts and Facebook Reactions

TL;DR - You KNOW Marc, Randy, and Scott couldn't let Twitter messing with Favorites and Facebook Reactions go without some spirited discussion.


Intro: Welcome to the Social Media Clarity Podcast. Fifteen minutes of concentrated analysis and advice about social media in platform and product design.

Randy: I'm Randy Farmer

Scott: I'm Scott Moore.

Marc: I'm Marc Smith.

Randy: Really, Twitter, hearts?

Scott: Really, Facebook? Reactions.

Randy: Oh, my gosh, guys. We have a lot to talk about since the last time we've had a session. The big social guys have gone nuts for emoticons as a way to express yourself with a single click.

Scott: We already had ways of expressing ourselves, they were just very generic. Now we're trying to be specific about it.

Randy: Twitter changes from stars to hearts ...

Scott: ... and Favorites to Likes.

Randy: Yeah, and Favorites to Likes. [as if] they're exactly the same. If you think they're the same, people out there, just think what if they changed it back to a pile of crap. Is that the same as a heart, or a star? When I think of Twitter's problems, I don't think this is one of the ones that was very high on the list.

Scott: No, but it's one of the ones that helps them get attention. It helps generate notifications. They practically said, 'we're not getting enough people using the Favorite, so now we're going to change it to something that more people will use.' That generates notifications, and that brings people back to the app.

Randy: So, something that was meaningful, now means less.

Marc: Is it the case that you are more likely to love something than like it?

Randy: Well, that's not the test on the table in this case. It's Like versus Favorite.

Marc: Yeah, but the like generates this heart, which suggests love, and it used to be a star. So, we're moving from star to heart. Admittedly, we're going from Favorite to Like, but is there really that much more like than favorite in the world?

Scott: I think that the context was really different. From what I gauged from the reactions, other than people just hating change, was that Favorite de-noted a bookmark, and then expanded from there. A lot of people were using it as, "I'm saving this link for later", or, "I'm saving this Tweet for later". Some people were using it as, as you would for any signaling system, some people were using it as, "I like what you said". Now, they've actually tightened up the context while at the same time, loosen it, by saying, it's a like, which can mean anything. Anything that's positive. It's a positive mark on it.

Randy: Right, and they retroactively marked every Favorite a Like.

How many gillions of those they have, I don't know. At least one person I was talking to yesterday when I first saw this in practice, and was shocked by it, was Kaliya [Hamlin], otherwise known as Identity Woman, and she says, "Oh my God, now I've got to go fix all my Favorites on Twitter, because I don't love most of those things."

Scott: Yeah. Some people were tweeting out "Liking your tweet is not consent."

Randy: That's awesome. When we first thought of doing this episode, that hadn't even happened yet. That's just the freshest thing, that happened yesterday. Before that, Facebook was going to start testing the emoticon variants, or they call Reactions, as a response to the demand for dislikes.

Marc: Right. So, we don't get Dislike, but we get Reactions.

Randy: Well, and if you look at the reactions, the icons are ambiguous. I don't know if that's a feature or a bug. They do, in fact, include a dislike one, called Angry, it's angry face. It's like, what's this about? I think this is what we wanted to talk about, is we wanted to take some of these seemingly crazy, and capricious ideas, and talk about what it is maybe they're trying to do. We've been calling this, amongst the three of us - " Quantifying Empathy." So, we are going to have a conversation about that today.

Marc: Right. It seems that what we're seeing is a feature that allows people to have a very light weight way to author some higher level of attention. I mean, after all, the system knows who "saw" each piece of content, and it even reports that for some pieces of content on some platforms. It'll say some number of people have been exposed to, or have seen the piece of content, but that's sort of the lowest level of content measurement. How many people might have seen it. Now with the Like, or the Love, or the Favorite, or the reaction, we're trying to get people to click, and just click, but to click from a field of choices to give us a higher resolution sense of, what did that click mean? The Like was too ambiguous. So, now we have angry, and happy, and sad. What are the other ones?


Randy: You can make up as many as you want.

Scott: Great.

Randy: No, there's just a few. There's a Yay one supposedly.

Scott: Yay. There's Wow, there's Sad, there's Angry ...

Scott: ... and there's one other.

Randy: So, when you use ambiguous faces, in the case of Facebook, it actually lacks all subtlety. Does it mean what the face expresses to you? Or, does it mean the words that are written underneath it?

Scott: Yeah. Am I angry at you because of something you said? Or, am I angry about the same thing you're angry? Am I expressing actual empathy, or am I reacting against you?

Marc: So, this is a great piece of ambiguity that the interface has yet to resolve. You pointed this out earlier, that people are splitting their reaction to what this story means _for the author_ of the story, and their reaction _to_ the story. So, there's this ambiguous reference that must be clarified, and these additional features do not clarify it. If anything they add more ambiguity.

Randy: Interesting in Facebook, is you've always been able to use these exact same icons, you've always been able to add them to a message. You did it by posting a reply to post. You would then explain - so, you could put in a sad face, and say, "I feel sorry for you. If I can help you in any way, let me know." Right? So, you have this rich interaction that would be going on between humans. So, what do the humans actually want? What are good for humans? Probably saying more, not saying less. What really kind of drives it home for me, is when you *count* them. I say, when you click on an angry icon, there's object missing.

There's a famous expression; "This sentence no verb". Right?

Well, now with the reactions we have; "I'm angry with..." or "I'm mad at..."

Marc: That's great. That's great.

Randy: I'm sad at ... Right? In the same kind of construction, with that missing by pulling them out. Then you count them, and you say, "Lots of us are mad at..." We don't even know if those people are mixed and matched on what they're mad at.

Scott: Right. A lot of people are mad, but we don't know if they're mad at, or mad with.

Randy: Yeah, and I've got to tell you, that's going to drive people off. Just the mad icon alone is going to drive people away from posting, because they can't figure out, you know, if you have any social anxiety, any feedback, other than "we love you, it's okay" is going to be harmful. So, it surprised me that they said Dislike is too negative, we get that, and then put an angry face. In counting them they're already finding out in Spain and Ireland, where they're testing it, messages are coming back with a mixture of counted face types. Want to talk about no way to interpret data - What the heck does that mean? Facebook's excited, because they got a lot of clicks they probably wouldn't have got before. That they can use to route messages to your email box.

Scott: Yeah, so the cynical side of me says - so one thing in developing, and choosing what they were going to choose as far as what icons to go for - they looked at all the one word, and sticker-only posts, and they just kind of aggregated all that together, and said, okay, these are the things that people most likely say in those replies, when they're posting an emoticon or sticker or something like that. So, they're just making it easier for them now to count and quantify that for other purposes. Either to send notifications, or more likely a lot of the brand pages, the blogs, and other folks out there who are into Facebook marketing, are saying this could be useful, because now you can get more detailed information about what your brand reaction is. So, it's just another thing that someone's going to measure in order to sub-divide targeted marketing.

Randy: Yeah, but that ends up, it's true, and diluting. We all recall the experiments people have been doing just with Like and Share, if you think X: Like this thing. If you think Y: Share this thing. Right, because they're trying to manipulate these various counters. So, it occurred to me, they could have just put in a polling mechanism. So ...

Scott: Twitter did put in a polling mechanism recently.

Randy: Good.

Scott: Yeah, Facebook used to have polls. A long, long time ago, Facebook used to have polls, and they took them out.

Marc: So, this is an interesting point. If we're going to be critical of the reaction system, we ought to suggest an alternative:

One alternative is to allow the poster to list the reactions that they are interested in having people choose from. So, a little bit of a hybrid between a poll, and these emotion icons. Maybe you could react to me with sympathy, empathy, or cash, or other.

Scott: Well, you could even take the system that they have now, and say, which one of these would you like to focus on, or how many of these would you like people to, you know, is this a 'Wow - Yay' type of post? Do you want Wows and Yays, and you don't want Sads on your post, because that's not what you're talking about? They actually have something built in, this is really funny, in Facebook, they have the option for being able to say, "I'm feeling blessed." Or happy, or sad, or angry, and they have this list of about 25 of these things, and why can't I +1 somebody who is feeling a certain way already? Because now the context is, "I'm with you on this. "

Marc: So, what's the ultimate goal here? We want users to click more, and ...

Randy: ...let's be clear: Advertisers want users to click more.

Marc: Right, right. I meant to say, what is the system designers ultimate goal here. They want users to click more. As system users though, as people who use these features, what is our goal?

Randy: I got to say, I'm with Sherry Turkle on this, that anything that reduces human conversation, is probably truly reducing empathy. If people out there are interested, I'll put a link in the show notes to show Turkle's latest book and work. It talks specifically about the fact that we've been reducing ourselves to machine interactions with lighter and lighter interfaces to the point where we don't even know what empathy is anymore. We don't have to respond with any empathetic statement when all we have to do is click a sad icon.

Scott: Yeah, and I really want to read Sherry's book, but I'm starting to think that there's a slight difference in that, and a little bit more optimistic in that, yes, using our smart phones, and what not, are pulling us away from face to face conversations, and I think we're having to figure out now that we're breaking that, what can we do, now that we're turning our faces towards devices, what can we do to actually build back in? What are the things that we're missing, and how do we rebuild that in our systems? How do we get folks to build up more empathy with people, and can we do that with systems? I think it's something that is important. These systems are light weight, and they're somewhat useful, but they lack deeper meaning, which is exactly what you're saying.

Randy: Well, don't take the simple path. Don't just count clicks on dots, right? Design interfaces that help people solve problems.

Scott: Right.

Randy: People do this.

Marc: What problem do people feel like they have? I mean, at the moment Facebook trained us to want to generate certain kind of responses. We want Likes, we want Comments, we want some kind of currency that proves we consumed other people's attention, and that they've granted us some kind of approval. Is that they only purpose that we could use this platform for, and is that the only purpose these reaction features are designed to support?

Scott: Well, obviously not. I mean, that's not the only purpose. Facebook's purposes might be at cross purposes with those of us who want to actually build communities online, and help people develop deeper, meaningful relationships. That's why I think that these are light weight, but not very meaningful. They might suffice in those ambiguous situations, especially in a network like Facebook, where very often you are not close friends with the people who are on your Facebook network. So, sometimes commenting deeper on something could become awkward, because you just aren't that well connected, but you want to acknowledge. So, I think there's room for the social grooming that a Like, or any of these kind of reactions would provide, but I think that we should be thinking about, as designers, and as people who are fostering online communities, how to help people get to that deeper conversational engagement, that Sherry Turkle is point out, even though we are still on our devices.

Randy: Right. So, I think I can summarize my thought on this, clearly, which is, any interface that allows a single click for me to add angry, without and object on it, decreases my chances of influencing the person, or the event, I was angry with, because there is no context provided. So, the one way we can improve using these tools is if I choose angry, I do actually have to say at what.

Scott: Well, and as a designer, we could even prompt people that if you choose ...

Randy: Exactly.

Scott: ... that if you choose something it would give them the ability to provide the context, rather than the context-less emoticon.

Randy: Yeah, so, agree and disagree are missing. We know from helpful/unhelpful movie reviews that two of those icons are going to be re purposed for that, because they already are. If they had helpful and unhelpful we know those would be mapped to agree and disagree, for controversial objects. So, is angry going to be the new disagree?

Scott: Yeah, I think so.

Marc: So, is this all because typing a few characters, a comment, a short message, is too burdensome, and is it too burdensome because of the time, or because we're doing it with one thumb, standing in a checkout line, and that's why we really need, at most, the two to three to four tap method for replying to complex situations. Rather than the forty- or fifty-tap necessary to actually type out a five- or eight-word sentence.

Scott: I think that's a good point. I don't think that these systems are being designed with user convenience in mind to necessarily help us to communicate with each other better. I think that they are there to help us generate notifications, so that we come back to the application faster and more often.

Randy: A single click on a face has striped almost all semantic meaning from the event.

Scott: I think you have a point that this particular system is being set up, and this particular way, because mobile devices are being used for the quick in and out, you know, quick check. Users are using it that way, and Facebook and Twitter are adapting to that particular use in order to capture that behavior. That's what it is, it's a behavior capture system. They're getting somebody's attention, they want to get somebody to "engage," even though I don't think that's engagement. Then they're going to pull all that data together, and they're going to use it as either targeted advertising, or use it to generate more notifications to bring the original posters back to the application, where you deliver more ads.

Marc: So, I would say it as this: Why not to like the new Like - I'm angry, you might be happy, but we might not be able to tell.

Randy: That sounds like a great summary to me.

Scott: Yeah. Yeah.

Randy: Thanks everyone. I hope you're enjoying the new format.

Go ahead and say thanks, guys.

Marc: Right. Scott?

Randy: Say thanks.

Scott: Oh, that. I'm not. I'm like, now I'm lost.

Marc: You're not thankful? I'm thankful. Thank you everyone.

Scott: I'm Angry. Thanks.

Randy: Okay, that's great. That's an ending. I'll take it.

Scott: I don't know why. I'm just Angry.

Marc: Well, I'm going to be Grumpy in a minute, so ...

Randy: I might even keep a little of this.

Marc: Bye-bye.

Randy: All right.

Outro: For links, transcripts, and more episodes, go to Social Media Clarity dot net. Thanks for listening.