Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How A New Button Will Revolutionize Facebook Forever

Facebook doesn't know you. No matter what Mark Zuckerberg says. Sure, the Feds might have made 25,000 requests for user data, but it's unlikely they learned anything other than Facebook users' affinity for cuddly cat photos and re-posted Pinterest quotations.

For a clear example of Facebook's failure to know who you are, look no further than the quiet end to Facebook Gifts, the social network's attempt to get you to buy real-life items for your friends' birthdays, engagements, and anniversaries.

As Forbes' contributor Mark Rogowsky points out, Facebook Gifts was a laughable failure:
"I looked at it four times in the past few days just to get a sense of what Facebook thought my friends might like. Three female friends had birthdays. Only of them has a young child, but somehow, all of them are good candidates for an $11 “mustache pacifier,” because, as Facebook puts in, “even babies need disguises.” There is so much wrong with this gift, it’s hard to know where to begin."
The issue is that, for all its claims about tracking users' behavior online, Facebook is unable to parse what "Likes" mean. Did you "Like" your friend's post about hamster balls because you want a hamster ball yourself, or did you merely think it was cute? Do you "Like" Pizza Hut because you find their pizza to be superior, or were they offering a 25% coupon if you clicked "Like" on their Facebook page? "Like" is such a general term, it can be maddeningly obscure: you may "Like" mustache pacifiers because you think they're a hilarious thing, but you'd never actually spend the money to buy one.

It's a well-known story that before Facebook decided on the "Like" button, they considered creating an "Awesome" button. Zuckerberg and Co. made the wise choice to go with "Like," which was more universal across cultures and age groups, applicable as a noun and a verb, and had a wide enough breadth to be used in many different contexts. The "Like" button helped spread Facebook far and wide because it didn't require much thought or discernment from the user-- one could "Like" something as a gesture of support for a friend, they could "Like" it because it made them smile, they could "Like" an opinion they agreed with or an article they thought was worth sharing. "Like" and "Share," the two methods of acknowledging and spreading content through Facebook's news feed, are pretty much the same. I'd argue there's no distinction between the two, other than "Share" allowing someone to pass along objectionable or shocking content without having to awkwardly "Like" it.

But while the vagueness and multiple applications of "Like" and "Share" helped grow Facebook, they're terrible descriptors. They lack the ability to communicate desire. And if you're a company that ultimately needs to make money by selling things (or advertising them), that's a problem.

However, a recent decision by a federal judge in Michigan could pave the way for a new button that will revolutionize Facebook forever.

What is this magical button? A "Want" button.

Back in 2010, Facebook was working on the idea. They even tested it out among a few retailers in 2012. However, another company, based in Detroit, had previously created an app called "Want Button" that allowed users to create wishlists of products on Facebook.The two parties were locked in a legal struggle until earlier this month, when a judge tossed the case and both companies agreed the court battle was over.

The decision paves the way for something that has been in the works for a while. TechCrunch thought it would happen two years ago. The legal hurdle cleared, its likely we'll see a "Want" button instead of "Like" appear on e-commerce sites and beneath product posts on your Facebook newsfeed sometime in the near future.

Anyone arguing that users won't "Like" the new button (and there have been many naysayers, mostly from the vocal "add a dislike button" crowd) haven't been paying much attention to sites like Pinterest, where users frequently create whole boards of aspirational items they desire. By getting users to voluntarily reveal the products and services they want, rather than just "Like", Facebook can create a better profile of its users, enabling advertisers to better target their audience and allowing the site to recommend complimentary products as gifts. Facebook Gifts 2.0 would draw from a better database of its users' desires and be able to churn out more accurately curated suggestions. None of this is a bad thing.... wouldn't you rather Facebook recommended birthday gifts you'd actually want?

The "Want" button is coming, people. And I expect it to help Facebook greatly in its efforts to enter the e-commerce field-- where the company will finally justify its billion-dollar valuation.

Visitor Map: