Toward Micro-Likes

Long ago when electricity and phones were new, they were largely unregulated, and privately funded. But then as the tech (and especially the interfaces) stopped changing so fast, and showed big scale and network economies, regulation stepped in. Today social media still seems new. But as it hasn’t been changing as much lately, and it also shows large scale and network economies, many are talking now about heavier regulation. In this post, let me suggest that a lot more change is possible; we aren’t near the sort of stability that electricity and phones reached when they became heavily regulated.

Back in the early days of the web and internet people predicted many big radical changes. Yet few then mentioned social media, the application now most strongly associated with this new frontier. What did we miss? The usual story, which I find plausible, is that we missed just how much people love to get many frequent signals of their social connections: likes, retweets, etc. Social media gives us more frequent “attaboy” and “we see & like you” signals. People care more than we realized about the frequency, relative to the size, of such signals.

But if that’s the key lesson, social media should be able to move a lot further in this direction. For example, today Facebook has two billion monthly users and produces four million likes per minute, for an average of about three likes per day per monthly user. Twitter has 300 million monthly users, who send 500 million tweets per day, for less than two tweets per day per monthly user. (I can’t find stats on Twitter likes or retweets.) Which I’d say is actually a pretty low rate of positive feedback.

Imagine you had a wall-sized screen, full of social media items, and that while you browsed this wall the direction of your gaze was tracked continuously to see which items your gaze was on or near. From that info, one could give the authors or subjects of those items far more granular info on who is paying how much attention to them. Not only on how often how much your stuff is watched, but also on the mood and mental state of those watchers. If some of those items were continuous video feeds from other people, then those others could be producing many more social media items to which others could attend.

Also, so far we’ve usually just naively counted likes, retweets, etc., as if everyone counted the same. But we could instead use non-uniform weights based on popularity or other measures. And given how much people like to participate in synchronized rituals, we could also create and publicize statistics on what groups of people are how synchronized in their social media actions. And offer new tools to help them synchronize more finely.

My point here isn’t to predict or recommend specific changes for future social media. I’m instead just trying to make the point that a lot of room for improvement remains. Such gains might be delayed or prevented by heavy regulation.

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  • Nick

    Instagram sometimes tells you how many people viewed a post, and you can always see how many people watched one of your stories. Not quite as far as you’re suggesting, but it’s in the same direction

    • Nick

      Actually, and you can “react” to posts on Facebook

    • Dan

      Twitter lets you see interaction metrics for your own tweets including views and times people expand your tweet; and snapchat lets you see who viewed your stories too

    • I would assume all decent social media networks are doing this, just not showing them to you: extracting implicit feedback from events like scrolls and link clicks. Even if a user doesn’t explicitly click ‘like’, taking 15s to scroll to the next item rather than 1s is a strong signal, hovering with a mouse is a further signal, and highlighting or clicking on a link in it is an even stronger signal. (For example, Google uses a ton of implicit signals in ranking search results, like the “long click”: if you click on a link and you don’t come back to the search results or it takes you many seconds, that implies you found what you wanted. No need for 1-5 stars!)

      These signals then feed into decisions as to whether to boost the relevant items into more feeds or show them for longer or suggest you to other people. So in a way, all these ‘micro-likes’ are already being collected, recorded, aggregated, and exposed to the creator as macro-likes (since the more micro-likes you accumulate, the larger the chance of someone enacting a macro-like). So social media already covers a lot of the possible micro-liking.

      Where likes, micro or macro, really seem to be missing is offline:

      > “Imagine you had a wall-sized screen, full of social media items, and
      that while you browsed this wall the direction of your gaze was tracked
      continuously to see which items your gaze was on or near.”

      And of course Facebook’s Oculus and VR in general is working hard on eyetracking – for foveated rendering, mostly, but it’ll be useful for a lot of other stuff, heatmaps being the most obvious… Replaces crude JS-based estimation and mouse-tracking.

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  • Michelle Paquette

    Checkout ‘Black Mirror’ episode ‘Nosedive.’

  • How would this be an improvement?

  • Outroverse

    A lot of people, having realized an inch of what is possible to do with the data gathered of them up to now, feel disturbed already. Although I do think it was naïve to trust social media platforms with an abundance of intimate data despite all the warning voices, I think it is worthwhile for people in general to think about and discuss the potential ways to use and abuse data gathered and combined of their behavior.

    Centralized systems can and will abuse power given to them; I don’t believe such systems will lead to more freedom if they aren’t being regulated. It isn’t nearly as bad as saying we should let governments prone to cementing their power do as they like, as regulating their actions would stop their plans halfway through, but it is in the same direction.

    The obvious counterargument to this is that we shouldn’t be so concerned whether someone will abuse possible data people will give them out of their free will, as we are simply giving people more of what they want; this is close to Robin’s point. However, we might also say we should in no way regulate legal or illegal drugs, in no way tax harmful substances (alcohol, cigarettes, etc.) and in no way intervene when two people are beating the spit out of each other, since we’d just prevent them from getting what they want.

    That particular reductio ad absurdum isn’t fair nor does it hold up to extreme scrutiny, but it does convey the general idea that it is not necessarily good to just give people more of what they want.

  • ” Social media gives us more frequent “attaboy” and “we see & like
    you” signals. People care more than we realized about the frequency,
    relative to the size, of such signals.”

    When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and it makes you stupid. It’s hard to be more idiotic than to view all social media through Hanson’s signaling lens, and it leads to such moronic ideas as his wall-sized screen devoted to measuring popularity.

    As for “regulation”, it’s the ISPs who are doing the regulating and stifling … that’s why (government enforced) net neutrality is needed.