The Difference Between 'Like' and 'Want' on Facebook

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With word that Facebook is testing a 'want' button to add to its stock of verbs, we got to wondering: How can we choose between the old standby "like" and its not so distinct brother "want"? The developer who discovered the 'want' in the Facebook Javascript SDK as the XFBML tag <fb:wants>, says the button will only appear along with things marked as "products." But that doesn't narrow things down too much. Sure, that eliminates photos or news articles, but what about the slew of Pages that advertise things we can buy, like Starbucks, or the specific ads for products that show up on the side of our feed. (Like lube.) Facebook has not confirmed the feature or given details about how it will work. "We're always testing new Platform features, however we have nothing new to announce," a spokesperson told us via e-mail. But what makes something "want"-able as opposed to just "like"-able?

We can kind of figure this out via process of elimination. If we have to choose, we will use the "want" button for the desires for which we don't use "like." So, first let's see what makes us "like" something.

  • For jokes. Sometimes we 'like' things because we want to show our friends how silly and ironic we can be. Like that guy who liked a big-ole tub of personal lubricant. He didn't do it to prove how much loves large quantities of lube, or tell the world they should get in on this great deal. He did it as a joke.
  • As an actual endorsement. Starbucks has 30 million 'likes'. Some of those must come from Starbucks enthusiasts telling the world they 'like' a product. Plus The New York Times found one person who likes things in a literal way. "People who value my opinion can take my word and check out what I have liked. I like to see who in my social network is interested in the same stuff as I am, and vice versa," Denzie Batulan told the Times. Batulan can't be alone.
  • A forced endorsement to get something free. Sometimes companies offer deals for people who 'like' things.
  • Just to show the world your interests. Some people just 'like' things to create an Internet persona, but would prefer not describe this as an endorsement. Likes have turned into a lazy-person's replacement for the interests section. No need to fill anything out, just 'like' things!

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So what does that leave for 'want'? We have some ideas.

  • An intention to buy. See some garment floating around the News Feed that looks fun? 'Want' it. Kind of like pinning on Pinterest, we'll save products for later. Our Facebook 'wants' will read like a virtual shopping cart.
  • Want but can't have. Want has a different meaning on the Internet than like. It's a meme on its own.  Take this Atlantic headline, for example: "Want: This Tiny Personal Submarine." We use the term to indicate a sort of unattainable want.
  • Also for jokes. Like all things on the Internet, things turn ironic pretty fast. Soon we'll get clever and  start 'want'-ing big vats of lube and As Seen on TV products.

Like we said, Facebook hasn't confirmed the button. But considering the possible revenue the button could bring into the in-need-of-money social network, we can understand why they might 'want' it.

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