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Artificial Abundance: Why I Don’t Like, “Like”

by Nicholas Barnard on December 19th, 2010

So I’ve been moving my online world back to twitter, and realizing why I prefer it much better than Facebook. The main driver getting me back to twitter is that its more open than Facebook.

The one thing that I really prefer is twitter’s way for you to say that you like a tweet: you retweet it. The thing that is important about this is its a big gesture. Retweeting something says “I enjoyed this enough that I want everyone who reads my twitter feed to see it.” Its a much larger request of your audience than clicking the like button on Facebook.

It is easy to like something on Facebook, far too easy actually. Because there is no commitment or resources consumed by clicking the like button. When I retweet something, I’m taking a limited resource, my twitter feed and the attention of my reader and saying, “this is worth reading.” Newspapers and news websites don’t just publish the AP and Reuter’s feed, they select which articles they believe are worth their readers time. This is why despite the open availability of the AP and Reuter’s feed newspapers and editors have continued to be valuable resource on the internet.

Liking something on Facebook on the other hand is using an unlimited resource, and not forcing people to make an economic decision on the scarcity of their audience’s attention. I think clicking the like button would work much better if Facebook gave everyone say twenty free likes, and sold the ability to like something for a dollar per twenty items you could like. You’d be free to unlike something at anytime and replace it with another thing that you like, but you’d have to make that tradeoff.

Lets say that I clicked like on Facebook for every movie that I moderately enjoyed. It’d be meaningless since many movies that I moderately enjoyed aren’t ones that I would take my limited time to watch again, and I might not recommend that my friends watch. There are movies that I have (and will) watch again that are worth my time. By making like really easy to click it makes it pointless. I do realize that likes on Facebook aren’t just about what you suggest people should read, eat, or go see, but I’ve not seen any evidence that Facebook has harnessed this in the same way that say Netflix harnesses users ratings to suggest movies.

If someone clicks like on Facebook they haven’t expended significant amount of resources. If someone retweets something they’ve spent a slightly scarcer resource. If they copy and paste it and place it into an email, they’ve spent an even scarcer resource. If they print it out, and track you down in person, they’ve expended an exceptionally scarce resource! You know implicitly if someone puts the effort to find you in person to share something with you that they think its valuable and something that you should read.

Facebook as made likes exceptionally abundant which means they’re worthless. Scarcity is good and important.

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