Facebook and the Case of the Missing “Dislike” Button

I am puzzled by Facebook’s comparative lack of way to filter and organize your FB experience, specifically the central News Feed feature.  It essentially uses opaque, automatic methods to construct a quite filtered News Feed for you, out of many sources.  There are just a few, on/off user controls such as choosing to block particular apps or completely defriend people.   In the past they tried things like Lists (groups), and  “less of this” controls, but these features are either dead or largely unused.

The non-uptake of those past features may suggest that users generally don’t want or can’t be bothered to do “filtering” and such management tasks.  (much like how, as the software-design maxim says, at least 95% of people never change any default settings).

On other hand, perhaps FB just didn’t figure out the right way to give users filtering powers, and so it’s failing to serve many people who are tired of the unfilterable mess, or who don’t even consider using the service for that reason.  (long before FB reaches its goal of signing up everyone on earth, they’ll have to convince some billions of skeptical middle-adopters, i.e. most people, that it’s not just an unending stream of trivial tidbits which they don’t have time or interest for).

Personally, I think that better, user-controlled filtering can and must be achieved.  You often hear that Facebook “got it right”, i.e. social networking, after Friendster, Myspace, etc. failed.  But to me that shows a limited imagination, or historical sense.  I believe Facebook’s grand social experiment, fascinating as it been, has hardly mapped or mastered the potentials of social networking.  Google’s grand entrance into the space, Google+, will put a spotlight on that.

In fact, it seems to me this is a gaping wide opportunity for a competitor such as Google+.  Consider, there is a FB group, “Facebook, give us a ‘dislike’ button”, that’s existed for years and currently has 495,290 members.   (https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=50153652583).  A half million users both annoyed and geeky enough to protest for a filtering feature!

It seems an obvious feature, yet various theories abound as to why Facebook won’t ever do it.   Some think that networking is inherently positive, i.e. is always link *building* rather than narrowing.  Others say the big FB would never allow such a capacity for public, negative feedback to afflict the corporations and brands upon which its monetization ambitions depend.

As to whether “Dislike” could get adopted by a mass user base, one problem is that although it the term is an obvious inversion of the existing “Like”, the meaning is ambiguous.   If a wall post reports that, e.g. New Jersey has voted to limit public employee’s collective bargaining, does a “Dislike” vote mean that you don’t like what New Jersey did, or that you think the FB user’s post was uninteresting / inappropriate?  Some people understand “Dislike” to mean comiseration with the post, some disapproval of the post.

Personally, I would suggest not only a “dislike” button (anonymous), but a user-set option to allow anonymous commenting.  (anonymous limited to those in your friend network).   Therefore, those users who wish to improve their Facebook posting manners, and learn what their friends actually find uninteresting or in poor taste etc., could do so.  This could be a quite socially educational, even *genteel* influence upon the chaos that Facebook can be today — a curious mixture of interesting, diverting, salacious, braggardly, irrelevant, tiresome, proselytizing, and oblivious (e.g. auto-posting your every pointless and contextless Tweet remark, or location check-in).

Facebook experience today.. a party to which not quite the right people showed up, with a few too many shouters and drunks, just not quite bad enough to leave?  yet.