Facebook is unparalleled for sharing photos of our vacation or a child’s first steps. All of the best moments of our lives look amazing on the Timeline. So what about the worst ones? What about when we have a stomach ache, get fired from a job, lose someone we love? Should expressing those ideas look different? Could something cue your friends so they don’t hit that “like” button inappropriately?
Apparently so. Soon everyone will have access to a new feature that’s slowly unearthed itself over the last few weeks, so that when we post an update, we can select how we feel about it from 200 different feeling-emoticon combinations, or even type any emotion imaginable and pair it up with the emoji of our choosing.
Of course, the 200 presets aren’t just for the darker moments. The list includes feelings like “great, wonderful, special, and loved”–the Facebook-standard Hallmarkian feelings. But it also includes some really dark stuff, like “ashamed,” “alone,” “guilty,” “angry,” and “lost.” These are literally some of the worst feelings humans have, and Facebook has them available on a drop-down menu.
“If you look at the data, most of the sharing on Facebook is positive. There’s not much negative sharing,” Facebook engineer Roddy Lindsay confirms to me. “One of the interesting things about this product is, when we tested it, we looked at the different emotions people were sharing. And it actually reflected a broader range of emotions.”
In other words, Facebook has found that people really are more likely to share all of their unhappy thoughts when given the formal option, even though, technically, status updates have offered free speech all along. That’s a powerful finding, and it’s why the company sees the status update, combined with the emoji-esque tag, as a one-two punch of a more expressive, context-aware Facebook.
“That’s how people use emoticons in the first place. When you talk to someone in real life, you can see their face and have their entire context as to what they mean,” product designer Ryan Case says. “Obviously when you bring it online, you lose some of that context. Part of the appeal of these visual indicators is that they add this layer of context that wasn’t available before.”
That layer of context is valuable to more than just Facebook’s users, of course. Emotions are one component of a Social Graphable suite of six newly taggable verbs (feeling, watching, reading, listening to, eating, and drinking) that the social network is adding as an option to all posts. So just as Facebook can track that you’re “watching Game of Thrones” or “eating shelled pistachios,” so too will they be able to see you’re feeling “lonely” or, well, any other feeling known to the English language.
“You can imagine that once we can build other experiences around this data over time, this will be something that’s a nice addition to other experiences on the site,” Lindsay says.
“Like, here’s a list of your friends who are really upset right now?” I suggest.
And the team just laughs.