Why Facebook wants a ‘reaction’ out of you

The new emoticons help you express yourself in new ways, which is a benefit in the age of ones and zeroes.


Facebook has started rolling out the new ‘Reactions’ buttons to users today, a move that is a bit surprising even though we knew it was coming back in October.

The new emojis add to the familiar ‘Like’ button. You can now express yourself using the new ‘Love’ ‘Haha’ ‘Wow’ ‘Sad’ and ‘Angry’ buttons. From a technical standpoint, you might wonder why this is such a big move for a company that has 1.44B users all over the world. And, why they took the risk of augmenting the well-known 'Like' button.

First, it’s easy to accomplish. The update works like a pop-up where you long-hover to see the additional emojis and pick one. I will admit to having a debate about which one to pick when I tested it this morning, deciding between 'Love' and 'Haha' in a post from a friend. It adds a layer of complexity in how we respond.

For users on a mobile device, there isn’t usually enough time to type a sentiment, so the popularity of the icons -- no matter how cartoonish they look -- help people quickly react to a news story (like this one) or some other post. Because of the large user base, Facebook has become a second Internet. Many users I know spend about 75% of their time online using Facebook and nothing else. Quite a few don’t even use email or browse much further than a few sites. They live in this world of clicking 'Like' constantly, so the new options just give them a bit more flexibility.

Another big reason this is important news is that is shows a trend where even the biggest companies in tech are attempting to give users a wider range of emotions. As Wired pointed out today, psychologists are seeing that users are communicating with text more often yet they lack the tools to express emotion and body language. Technology has failed to keep pace with the move to constant texting and messaging and yet still provide some way to express emotion.

In her groundbreaking book called Reclaiming Conversations, Sherry Turkle lamented the move to the written word as the primary method we discuss topics and communicate with each other. Frankly, it’s just easier. A conversation takes much longer in person or on the phone. We live in a compressed state where we tend to have more “digital” friends than real friends. I tend to think this is a good thing -- we communicate more, just in a different way.

Yet, leaving the emotion out of the conversation often leads to misunderstanding. The new icons aren’t that earth-shattering, and yet there is a move away from just a Yes/No response, the zero or one of technology that seems to work fine for engineers and no one else. It helps us express more than just a bland reaction.

And, it helps in the business world. Customers, clients, business partners, investors, and anyone else you know can now express a finer degree of sentiment over a product announcement, new hire, or some news about your company. It's a good trend, although it could also be disruptive if you are used to just getting simple likes.

Do you “like” the new icons? Will you use them? I’m curious about your reaction, so post in comments or on this Facebook post.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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