Here’s a little parable. A friend of mine was so enamored of Google Reader that he built a clone when it died. It was just like the original, except that you could add pictures to your posts, and you could Like comments. The original Reader was dominated by conversation, much of it thoughtful and earnest. The clone was dominated by GIFs and people trying to be funny.
I actually built my own Google Reader clone. (That’s part of the reason this friend and I became friends—we both loved Reader that much.) But my version was more conservative: I never added any Like buttons, and I made it difficult to add pictures to comments. In fact, it’s so hard that I don’t think there has ever been a GIF on the site.
I thought about building new social features into my clone until I heard my friend’s story. The first rule of social software design is that more engagement is better, and that the way you get engagement is by adding stuff like Like buttons and notifications. But the last thing I wanted was to somehow hurt the conversation that was happening, because the conversation was the whole reason for the thing.
Google Reader was engaging, but it had few of the features we associate with engagement. It did a bad job of giving you feedback. You could, eventually, Like articles that people shared, but the Likes went into an abyss; if you wanted to see new Likes come in, you had to scroll back through your share history, keeping track in your head of how many Likes each share had the last time you looked. The way you found out about new comments was similar: You navigated to reader.google.com and clicked the “Comments” link; the comments page was poorly designed and it was hard to know exactly how many new comments there had been. When you posted a comment it was never clear that anyone liked it, let alone that they read it.