Beyond Facebook, emojis are :(

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

In case you missed it: Facebook is launching Reactions, in the form of emojis, for posts in their newsfeed. What was described at first as a "dislike button" is actually a step in a better direction: a variety of emotions we can express on a post on Facebook. We've all felt the need for this: we don't want to Like a sad story, or a complex article, or something we find truly inspiring or hilarious. Like didn't cut it.

It makes sense to us here at Antenna, of course:

  1. People want to be more expressive.
  2. People want things to be simple.

People spend more time on phones (and tablets) than computers. And tapping is simpler than typing, especially on a phone. So tapping wins.

I'm looking forward to this enhancement on my Facebook feed. I visit it a jillion times a week, and being able to let my friends, family, and Facebook's advertising machine better understand my perspective is (truly) a win for me as a user. (I'll blog another day about Facebook's Reactions being on a whole post vs. Antenna's being in-line.)

But I don't think Facebook's Reaction emojis are right for the rest of the web, and I hope they don't go there.

It's not just because publishers need to have a diversified traffic-driving strategy (but they do: Facebook referral traffic dropped massively in 2015). It's more fundamental than that.

How do I react naaaah, or AH-mazing! (as readers at Perez Hilton do everyday using Antenna), or something with more weight, like Fascinating or Excellent Point using yellow faces? Or what about reacting yes vs. YES! vs. Yes. vs. yes...?

I can't. You can't. We need language and boring ol' punctuation for this. Little yellow emojis flatten our expression into categories that are simply too small.

There are implications for the web here. Pretty big ones, actually. John West at Quartz recently wrote about what happens when publishers, reliant on platforms for reaching audiences, shape their voice to optimize for that platform.

When publications become wire services for platforms, they get flattened out. They focus more and more precious institutional energy on reaching a platform’s audience rather than their own, and their voice changes. They stop paying attention to the needs and preferences of their loyal audiences to cater to their borrowed, disloyal, Facebook-driven one, and they lose intimacy and trust.

Another way to look at it: if you must optimize your content to get a Like (or a Smiley or an Angry Face) to improve distribution, and certain kinds of content gets more Likes, then the content can start to look the same. As West describes:

Mostly, I get my news from Twitter. If I don’t look at the headline or the logo, it’s easy to mistake the actual content of Fusion for Mic or FiveThirtyEight for Vox. This trend promises to get worse as more and more publishers bow to the platform mandate.

We can't filter the world solely through smilies. We need publishers to have their own unique voice, and community, and perspective. And so, our filters need to be just as unique.

The web is ours if we use our own voice. I love Facebook, but unlike what millions may think, it is not the web.

How does this impact what we're doing here? Antenna is a simple engagement tool, and it is evolving into a platform. A platform designed to deliver content that is AH-mazing!, fascinating, naaaaah, inspiring, silly, challenging, baloney, and more.

Hopefully, we're a platform that's more human.


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