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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Facebook's Meta-Likes

Since facebook came up with the idea that you can like not only things but also "actions", (e.g. while you've been able to like one person's status for a while, it only recently became possible to Like another person's commenting on that status.) the site has moved one step closer to the realm of simple-yet-impossible-to-understand webapps so recently left empty by the demise of Google Wave.

See if you can make sense of the following screencap:

What the hell is going on here ? The first line is clear enough: Cécile, Julie and Sophie like Laureline's status. (Of course they do. She's in Thailand.) The "unlike" link implies that I too apparently like her status. This begs the question of why this shows up in my news feed when I've reacted to it before and thus am obviously aware of it. But never mind: the thing that really bugs me is the last line. Apparently eight people like "this". What the hell is "this"? Are they liking Laureline's status, or Cécile's liking of Laureline's status ? (If the latter is true, Cécile has apparently gone to the trouble of liking her own liking of Laureline's status.)

At some point I thought both lists referred to the same thing, (Laureline's status) and the "4 others" were just people I wasn't friends with. But that isn't the case : clicking on "4 others" reveal a friend and 3 people I don't know. It follows that either the first and last lines are lists of people liking different things, or there is a weird reason (or bug) in facebook that explains why one of those friends is counted in the last line but not in the first.

This kind of thing has been happening all the time for the last few days. Am I the only one who is confused by this? Is there a simple and obvious explanation that I'm simply too stupid to figure out? If facebook really wants to complicate its user interface, why on Earth doesn't it provide a "dislike" button? I've been hating Florent Pagny for years, yet it's 2010 and I still have no easy way to share that feeling with the people in my life…

By publishing this, I'm taking a risk that someone might come along with a perfectly sane and simple explanation, and prove me an idiot in the comments. It's a risk I'm willing to take for three reasons: first, even in the worst case I'll actually learn something. Second, I strongly doubt that any explanation can undermine my fundamental point, which is that facebook's "like" mechanism is fucked up. Just to make the point, I'm pretty sure this is a bug :

Last but not least, as a researcher working in knowledge representation, I can't help but see a silver lining in all this: in an incredibly roundabout and unexpected way, facebook is teaching the masses one thing: reification is bloody hard.

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