Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Twitter Users Don't "Heart" Hearts

Tuesday morning Twitter users awakened to a rather big change to the social media site. Twitter replaced the term "Favourite" with "Like". What is more, they replaced the star symbol used for Favourites with a heart symbol. To say Twitter users were unhappy would be an understatement. Thousands of people tweeted their rage at the change, while yet others wrote articles expressing their anger. One would be hard pressed to find even one Twitter user who was happy about the change.

As to Twitter, their product manager Akarshan Kumar said in a blog post, "We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use, and we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers." In the same blog post, Krumar also said, " The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people.  And in our tests, we found that people loved it."

People in Twitter's tests may have loved the heart, but apparently very few Twitter users do. And while much of the outrage is probably due to the fact that people generally don't like change, Twitter users have very good reasons to be angry about "Like" replacing "Favourite" and stars replacing hearts. Quite simply, over the years the Favourite evolved a wide array of uses. Many of us used Favourite for exactly that, our favourite tweets, but others used them for a wide variety of purposes. Perhaps the most common was to bookmark a tweet with a link to a news article one wants to read later, using "Favourite" the same way Favourites might be used on Internet Explorer or Bookmarks on Firefox. Others used the Favourite button as a way of acknowledging they had read a tweet, usually one in which they were mentioned. Others even used the Favourite button as a way of politely ending a conversation. Indeed, there are yet other uses people had for the Favourite button, including even a "Hate-Favourite" (which I will not even pretend to understand).

Given the number of uses to which people put the Favourite button, the star was the perfect symbol for it. The star is a relatively neutral and hence versatile symbol. It can be used to mean approval or it can be used to mean only a place marker. The star does does not come loaded with a lot of emotional meaning that would prevent it from being very adaptable in its use.

On the other hand, contrary to what Twitter might think, the term "Like" and the heart symbol are not versatile and cannot be used to "convey a range of emotions". According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the verb like means, "to enjoy (something) : to get pleasure from (something); : to regard (something) in a favourable way;  : to feel affection for (someone) :  and to enjoy being with (someone)." Whereas  someone might Favourite a story with the headline, "Five Million People Killed in Los Angeles in Earthquake" in order to read the story later, there is no way they would Like that same story. Quite simply, Liking the story might make it look like they like the idea of five million people dying in a natural disaster or that they feel favourably about five million people being killed in an earthquake. By the same token, no one would Like a tweet about the death of someone's pet, political tweets with which they vehemently disagree, or a tweet advocating suicide. In other words, the term "Like" is much more limited than the term "Favourite".

While the term "Like" is limited, the heart symbol is even more so. To nearly everyone the heart means one thing and one thing only: love. While the star symbol is a relatively neutral symbol with little in the way of emotional meaning, the heart symbol is simply loaded with emotional meaning. That will make it difficult for many, perhaps even most Twitter users. Whereas I have Favourited the tweets of total strangers in the past, I cannot see myself ever Liking the tweets of total strangers because of that heart symbol. After all, it would seem as if I am sending the message not that I like their tweet, but that I love them. Maybe it's just me, but that seems like a rather creepy message to be sending to a total stranger! Indeed, I have to wonder why Twitter chose the heart symbol given the amount of harassment many women face on the social media site every single day....

As to Twitter's claim that the star could be confusing to newcomers, I am calling that utter balderdash (actually I would use a stronger word, but this is a PG-13 rated blog). When I joined Twitter in 2009 I was not confused by the star or Favourites. I did not need anyone to explain the star or Favourites to me. What is more, I know of no one who has ever admitted to being confused by stars or Favourites. I think Twitter is seriously underestimating the intelligence of their users and, quite frankly, as a Twitter user I do find that a tad insulting.

Over the past few years Twitter has undergone a number of changes, many of which have not been popular with Twitter users: the introduction of inline images with no way to shut them off on the web interface; a change to Twitter profiles complete with varying font sizes for tweets; and doing away with background images on Twitter profiles. Replacing "Favourite" with "Like" and the star symbol with a heart symbol is only the latest in a number of changes which seem to be designed solely to drive away Twitter's core users. While I doubt that there will be many who will abandon Twitter due to this change, there might be a few who do. As to those who remain (among which I will number), we won't be Liking tweets nearly as much as we were Favouriting tweets. I don't think that is quite what Twitter had planned.

Right now I think it would be a good idea for Twitter to admit it made a mistake and to restore the term "Favourite" and restore the star symbol as well. At the very least they could bring the term "Favourite" and the star back and keep the term "Like" and the heart alongside them. Clearly Twitter users do not like having lost the ability to Favourite things and they clearly prefer the star to the heart. Unless Twitter wants to drive away core users with their next big change (which at the rate thing are going could be only a few months from now...), I think it might be the best course of action they can take.

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