Your Facebook home page is about to get (even more) personal. Starting this week, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and friends are rolling out an overhaul of the “News Feed,” that scrolling catalog of posts about your friends’ doings, photos and comments. The phrase “What’s on your mind?” will replace the old-school “So and so is …” status format. Users will see, Twitter-like, real-time updates on what members of their networks, including politicians and groups, are up to. Best of all, new filtering tools will allow users to choose whose updates they’d like to see, and whose they’d rather not.
“You can decide you no longer want to get updates from your old friend from high school who you rarely talk to, or you can filter the stream to only see updates about your family members,” Mr. Zuckerberg explained in a March 4 blog post. “And now, if you want, you can read what President Obama is saying on the same page as your best friend.”
Facebookers will also notice a “Highlights” section on the far right of the redesigned home page that features specific posts or photos from friends.How does it work? According to a Facebook staffer, “Highlights” is curated in part by a special little feature that popped up about a month ago: the “like” link.
Starting on Feb. 9, users could click on the “like” link if they liked whatever their friend had to share, whether it was a clever status message or a snap of their adorable dog. A tiny thumbs-up sign would appear beneath the post. Like that your friend “is hooked on Breaking Bad”? Click the “like” link, no witty comment necessary. It’s fast, fun and, well, nice.
Start-ups and smaller Web businesses have built their companies on top of that tiny “like” feature, from IAC’s video-sharing site Vimeo to MP3 aggregator the Hype Machine to Enjoysthin.gs, a sharing site built by Ted Roden, formerly of Vimeo and now a “creative technologist” at the New York Times. Elegant blogging platform Tumblr uses it, too. On these sites, “liking” can work as a fun bookmark tool to help users see what their friends are checking out on the ever-expanding Internet. Yet, “likes” do more than add to algorithms. They encourage users to keep adding content, the most valuable currency in the Web 2.0 world, and also to set a friendly tone for interacting with other users.
In other words, the “like” feature makes our Internet world a little bit smaller, and maybe a little bit nicer, too.
“When I got that first ‘like’ on my first video that I ever uploaded, it was really a big deal,” Blake Whitman, Vimeo’s community director, told The Observer. “That excitement is sort of what made me want to keep participating on the site.”
Vimeo embeds the “like” function, indicated by a heart glowing on the upper-right-hand side of the clip, in every video uploaded by their 1.2 million users. “The whole way that Vimeo works is through ‘likes,’” Mr. Whitman said. Once they “like” a video, users can see it posted in their “My Likes” page in their profile. Users can also see who else has “liked” the videos they’ve chosen (time-lapse videos and arty vignettes of city life are popular across the board). Whenever they add someone as a contact, Vimeo automatically subscribes them to not only the videos that that person uploads, but also the videos they “liked.”
“If I add someone as a contact, I’m basically saying that I like them and I’m probably going to like the videos that they like,” Mr. Whitman explained. “It’s sort of an organic recommendation system based on your choices.”
Users can also check out what other people are “liking” in all kinds of ways on the site. In “Vimeo Land,” an application that works as an animated, interactive visualization of who is doing what on the site, cartoon, paper-doll-looking representations of Vimeo users scissor their stiff legs around a landscape peppered with trees, under a big, yellow sun. Girls have ponytails and boys have shaggy ’dos or spiky green crowns. Little hearts bubble above their heads when they like things. Users can click on them to find out which video they “liked” and maybe start connecting with them to see what else they might like. Mr. Whitman said fostering new creative partnerships and friends with the “like” feature is part of Vimeo’s mission.
Mr. Whitman describes “liking” videos as a way to participate in the community—he has “liked” more than 5,000 of them. “We don’t really believe in a rating system, we just believe in giving that person love, literally, by clicking a heart,” he said.