You might have heard about Facebook's plan to add other instant emotional reactions to its interface, in addition to the iconic like button. Well, the future is almost here.
As of this month, the new program -- called Facebook Reactions -- has gone live in Chile, Ireland, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain. Now Facebook's chief product officer says it's coming to the United States "in the next few weeks."
The timing is mentioned in passing in a lengthy article on Bloomberg Business about Chris Cox, who joined Facebook in 2005, and whose job now means he's the top company official in charge of "big blue app."
(Apparently that's how Facebook employees refer to Facebook itself, as distinct from the company's other products and projects, like Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.)
Here's what the approaching change entails, and what it means for users and advertisers.
Like is a four-letter word.
First, the stats: Facebook's 1.6 billion users click like more than six billion times every day, according to Bloomberg, which means there are more likes than Google searches -- or about 80 percent as many likes each day as there are people on the planet.
The button has become one of Facebook's most prominent symbols, and one of the key data points of the algorithm Facebook uses to determine what content gets shown organically in people's newsfeeds.
As anyone who has ever used Facebook realizes, while like has become a universal symbol of acknowledgment, there are a lot of statuses and stories on Facebook that people don't like -- even if they feel compelled to "like" them.
Liking a friend's report of her divorce, or a post about a natural disaster, for example, doesn't make a lot of sense.
Angry, sad, wow, haha.
While users have long asked for a dislike button, this isn't exactly that. At first your screen won't look any different, but if you hover over the like button, other reaction icons will pop up -- each based on the most-common sentiments expressed in Facebook comments:
Additionally, instead of just showing how many likes a post has received, Facebook will now break it down into wows, hahas, loves, etc.
By the way, the yay icon gets an asterisk here because while it's been included in Facebook's test rollouts, it may be doomed.
"Yay was ultimately rejected because 'it was not universally understood,'" Bloomberg reports, citing a Facebook spokesperson.
Reaction to reactions.
So what does this mean for advertisers and users?
For brands, it likely means yet another change to the algorithm that determines how much your content gets displayed in newsfeeds organically, and how much you have to pay for advertising and boosting.
Exactly how Facebook will design its algorithm to react to content that prompts users to hit the angry or sad icons however, is anyone's guess.
(One would think an angry or sad reaction might be better than no reaction; but that's really just conjecture.)
If anything, it's even tougher to predict how ordinary users will react to Reactions as a feature, or how it will affect the way we communicate in general. Will users feel compelled to pile on the bandwagon when they see a post generating amazement or laughter or anger among their peers?
When Facebook rolled out the news feed in 2007, its users nearly revolted; now it's the backbone of the big blue app. Of course, Facebook is much bigger now, and the change could be the equivalent of Coca-Cola messing with its secret recipe, as Bloomberg puts it.
Reactions in the countries where it's been tested seem to range from neutral to positive, at least as far as I could find. A writer for Mashable in Dublin said Reactions seemed natural and straightforward when it came to news stories and other more public content -- but "it was a bit more difficult when it came to the personal."
A friend posted that his girlfriend had left him and I spent ten minutes agonizing over whether I should add a sad emoji (too pitying?), angry emoji (that might just rile him up!) or the "wow" one (this could have the subtext: wow, you're bad at relationships). In the end, paralysed by my choice of emotional reactions, I ended up commenting ("Take it one day at a time, dude.")
We'll all find out soon. Meantime, if you live in one of the places where Facebook Reactions actually has already rolled out, I'd be interested to hear from you.
Either contact me directly or let us know in the comments below what you think of the changes.