Where’s the Love?

Little-known fact: I started the MBTA fan page on Facebook. Why? Because I’m a fan (lowercase F) of the MBTA. It was just after fan pages were introduced, and I thought the goal was for users to create, well, fan bases around specific ideas or entities.

Silly me. That line of thinking is pretty outmoded nowadays, at least by Facebook’s standards. While in the real world, being a fan means showing passion and independent initiative around an idea or entity (as I did with the MBTA fan page), being a Fan on Facebook (uppercase F) is a much more passive, reactive, push-driven proposition. Sure, anyone can still create a fan page, but Facebook is definitively shaping it as a professional marketer’s tool.

Now, Facebook is moving away from the “fan” vernacular to the all-purpose “like” on both fan pages and advertisements for fan pages. When Facebook rolled out “like” a little over a year ago, unabashedly taking a cue from FriendFeed, it added another level to the hierarchy of engagement with content on Facebook. You can comment, like and, as of recently, share. (Google Reader offers a similar hierarchy — for any article, you can like, share, or share with comment.) Either way, on Facebook, the acts of liking or becoming a fan sign you up for a subscription to all activity around that content.

With this new move, Facebook is extrapolating the concept and language of “liking” something from individual pieces of content to whole entities. And the subscription model still applies — though with a fan page (soon to be known as a brand page ), you as a fan (soon to be known as a connection) are signing up for a longer-term commitment than you get when engaging with an ephemeral status update. Naturally, there will be user confusion, especially because Facebook has apparently already decided that user education about the change in terminology is unnecessary. MediaPost also points out the possibility that this change will blur the distinction between people and brands in the eye of the users.

But more importantly, what does it mean to “like” something now? Is it less of a handshake and more like a grazing of shoulders in the hall? How much stake do we put in something that is “liked”? To me, it seems that homogenizing everything into a culture of like (much like a community of “friends“) devalues the engagement. Basing everything on a tally of “likes” creates an easy, appealing metric. By moving the language away from “fans” and more toward “connections” and “brands,” it becomes less of a personal space and more of a business space.

And that’s fine. And it’s no surprise. We’ve seen things moving in this direction for a while. Facebook can develop an economy of like, and I’m sure it will be successful for them.

But where’s the love? This isn’t middle school, where you either liked or like-liked somebody. I’m talking investment, commitment and affection that lasts longer than homeroom. That has an important place in the mix, as well.

The love, I believe, is in the niche. It’s in curation and creation. It’s in feverish pockets of devotion to a specific topic or idea. It’s in the nurturing of a community, an idea or a collection of content. It’s in the human factor. It takes a little more time and work to get there, but it’s worth the effort.

It’s not that a line is being drawn in the sand between the two levels of engagement; both are a necessary part of the landscape. But as the economy of like is poised for ubiquity, let’s not forget about the currency of love.

UPDATE 4/2: Looks like Facebook is adding a new wrinkle, introducing a feature called Community Pages (distinct from Official Pages) designed to accommodate people who want to, well, create pages akin to what I initially thought “fan page” meant, as well as pages around concepts like “Can this pickle get more fans than Nickelback?” I guess it’s time to see how long it takes for the MBTA to come calling for their fan page 🙂

Photo by richkidsunite/Flickr Creative Commons

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