After the Facebook Like button was released 21.4.2010 on the f8 conference as a part of the new Open Graph protocol, it was quickly adopted by a lot of sites and portals, many of them mainstream. It didn't take long for the button to produce criticism, because it turned out it can be used to exploit user profiles by installing applications and gathering user data. Today, this debacle is slowly turning into history, and more than 100,001 sites already use the Facebook Like button, producing probably unimaginable amounts of likes and driving massive traffic to their sites.
I use Facebook (and other social sites) to promote my blog by sharing links, and actually get quite a few referrers from it. Many of my previous posts have been liked and commented, making it a very useful tool for generating visits. But I haven't imagined these interactions would also reflect on the Facebook Like button I finally adopted on my blog. I apologize if this is a well-known fact, but I haven't heard about it from anyone and still have trouble finding any mention of it.
When I first tested how the Facebook Like button behaves, I noticed it displayed a few likes even though I've clicked on it around 2 AM. This made me wonder if something is wrong with it. Is Facebook trying to fake likes to make the button more appealing for publishers? Surely they have to be smarter than that. After I dug in a little deeper I noticed it displays a different number of likes on different posts I've made and published to Facebook. Hm... Could this mean...?
I was intrigued by what I found out. Besides the actual clicks, the Like button also displays all the likes and comments on the links you or anybody else shared on Facebook, making it a global Facebook social interactions counter with a specific URL (link). I manually went through the statistics and concluded that all shares, likes and comments of posted links are also converted into likes on the button. I have tested it with 10 different posts and the numbers are pretty much correct, and I even found some proof of this fact. The people behind these likes and comments aren't mentioned with their names on the Like button, but they are there in the number. A pretty awesome feature for making your content look cooler and getting the most out of social interactions on Facebook.
Here are some results from my testing, which provide almost a perfect match between likes on the freshly published (and unclicked) Like button and shares, likes and comments inside Facebook.
The influence of new generation information systems on modern organizations: 5 likes on the button vs. 1 share (me), 2 likes (A, B) and 2 comments (me, B) - 5:5
- Facebook vs. Twitter - Part 2: Privacy and real-time web: 6 likes on the button vs. 1 share (me) and 5 likes (A, B, C, D, E) - 6:6
Why are all browser logos and icons round (and blue)?: 8 likes on the button vs. 3 shares (me, A, unknown), 4 likes (A, B, C, D) on my share, 1 like on A's share - 8:8
- Arthur C. Clarke envisioning the World Wide Web in 1968: 19 likes on the button vs. 8 shares (me, 7 unknown), 4 likes (A, B, C, D) and 2 comments (C, me) on my share, other interactions unknown - 19: 14 + x
- Neolab in 2009: 19 likes on the button vs. 1 share (me), 9 likes (A - I), 8 comments (A, 2 x me, J - M) - 19:18
Even though there are some differences, I still think the explanation is more than satisfactory and if I'm right, this fact alone probably makes it worth implementing anywhere. Besides, the Like button supposedly produces more traffic on sites and blogs using it, which will definitely be an interesting statistic to monitor. The only sad thing about is that I had to like (and unlike) all my previous blog posts to activate the count (taking some time and producing an empty Facebook profile), and it turns out sometimes the numbers don't load correctly because of unknown reasons.
My fascination with the little widget doesn't mean Facebook is off the hook from my side. As useful as the Like button may be for companies, publishers and bloggers, it probably isn't that good for the users and their privacy. Facebook should build a fair and transparent strategy covering these issues, because it becoming Big Brother surely isn't that promising for the people and the future of the World Wide Web, and more and more of us are aware of that. But taking a look from the other perspective and comparing it to similar sharing solutions, the Facebook Like button is pure awesomeness.
UPDATE (27.5.2011): Ever since Facebook started with the unification of the Like and Share buttons, this behavior seems to have vanished. But it was fun while it lasted.
UPDATE (1.11.2011): Silly me. The behavior is still there, but I've started posting to Facebook using an url shortener, which messes up the global like count. I guess it's a trade-off between better measurement and more likes displayed on your post.