Button Fatigue Settling In at Facebook

Read, Listened, Watched and Want are rumored to be joining the Like button

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Facebook is gearing up for f8, their annual developers conference, on Thursday, and everyone is dying to know what they'll announce. The word on the blogs Monday morning hinted at something big: a media platform, probably be music-centric for now. TechCrunch buoyed that idea with a late-in-the-day scoop from an unnamed source: more buttons. Leena Rao reports:

We've heard from a source that Facebook will introduce new buttons on the wall that will begin introducing some granularity to the "Like" concept. We're told these new buttons are "Read," "Listened," "Watched." The network will also soon launch new social commerce buttons like "Want" following the introductions of the aforementioned buttons.

More buttons! Rao made it clear that the button rumor comes "from a source (and not from Facebook)" but Liz Gannes at AllThingsD corroborated the details. "Sources said 'Read' partners include big online publishers such as Yahoo," Gannes reports. "While 'Watch' will be a range of Web video sites and 'Listen' will be music services."

But wait a second. More buttons? The genius of the Like button, announced at the f8 conference in 2010, was simplicity--one button everywhere to express all of your ambiguous Internet emotions. At first, the Read, Watched and Listened layer seems like it complicates things, unnecessarily. Do Facebook users really want more things to click?

Who knows what Facebook users really want, but we're going to float the idea that the new buttons aren't for the users at all. They're for Facebook's partners and advertisers. If Gannes and Rao are right, this is a big deal for media companies. For a lot of content providers, Facebook is a massive traffic driver, and more sharing options will ostensibly lead to more sharing and, naturally, more traffic. Two months ago, Jeff Bercovici at Forbes reported that Facebook wants to get into the news business and confirmed that idea Tuesday with a sneak peak at a Facebook-only edition of The Wall Street Journal. It's called WSJ Social. All this, just a few days after Facebook launched the "Subscribe" button.

The buttons would be an even bigger deal for advertisers. More buttons mean deeper engagement. If Facebook can train users to make more detailed assessments about the content they're consuming, they'll be able to offer more data to their advertisers, and depending on the terms and conditions Facebook's lawyers draft, it might also mean that advertisers could also gain more access to users. As Rao points out, Facebook tried a similar approach a few years ago with their Beacon advertising program. In short, Beacon allowed third party sites to push content into users' News Feeds based on their activity. It was a big privacy fiasco and eventually led to a class action lawsuit. However, the new buttons are an opt-in.

We're left with two conclusions. One, Facebook definitely wants to be a content provider, the subscription service for the social Internet. As the Poynter's Jeff Sonderman makes clear, users never have to leave Facebook to read Journal articles. Two, more buttons provides Facebook with an advertising model to make money off of that service.

Who knows what users will think. More buttons could lead to more confusion over what they mean, and fresh privacy concerns seem inevitable. Either way, they're definitely more useful than the Poke button, which is on its way out.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.