There are two Internets. The Internet before the Facebook Like button, and the Internet after the Facebook Like button. But Twitter’s new livestreaming video app, Periscope, has introduced a new type of Like button. For lack of an official name, let’s call it the Infinite Like button. And it may change the very nature of liking things on the Internet at a time when the Internet is becoming more and more a real-time phenomenon.
Here’s how the button works: You’re watching someone’s livestream, and you tap the screen. A heart pops up. You double-tap the screen, and two hearts pop up. But if you’re really into it, you can button-mash the screen like an old Nintendo game to create a little heart volcano, in which the hearts pop up in a flurry of colors.
When you see it in play, it’s an obvious enough idea that has subtle undertones of Japan’s bubblegum-heart-infused manga culture. But here’s the thing: People love it.
But perhaps the greatest part of Periscope–I certainly think it’s a highlight–is the fact that you can send hearts to the broadcaster by tapping on the screen. . . . I’ll admit I take more than a little joy out of sending lots and lots of hearts to broadcasters whose videos I like perhaps only a little. On the other end as a broadcaster, it feels oddly gratifying to receive these hearts from viewers. I liken it to getting Favorites on Twitter or Likes on Facebook; it taps into that same insecure need for love and recognition (hey, I admit it). It’s a very minor feature, but it’s one that I find rather delightful.
It seems silly, but the multi-heart approach serves a purpose: [It lets the people who are] recording know that their audience still appreciates what they’re doing, even several minutes into a stream. The result is that on popular streams–like that of retired astronaut Chris Hadfield, an early user–hearts fizz furiously in the corner of the screen throughout every broadcast, rising up like soda bubbles.
In one five-minute broadcast, I got 34 hearts from one person. (I love you too, whoever you are.) A performance from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus at Twitter’s offices received a constant stream of different-colored hearts on the bottom-right side of the screen throughout the whole performance. It’s a clever way to approximate cheering someone on, saying “you’re doing great!” while they perform.
Having mashed the Infinite Like button myself, I’m not sure that I have some level of insight to add beyond what’s excerpted above, except maybe one thing. As it stands now, we interact with content in an asynchronous manner; someone shares a photo, a status update, or even a YouTube clip, and then someone likes or comments on it after. Some people might see this information right that second and Like something you posted in support, but most would experience the content through a slow-burn read over the next 12–24 hours. Even Twitter, for all of its importance in the to-the-second news cycle, is constructed to be read or experienced whenever.
But as we see the social Internet become a more and more real-time phenomenon through livestreams, and, who knows, even shared virtual realities as Facebook has teased, it doesn’t make sense for the Like button to remain a one-and-done tool. It should be, as reviewers say above, a low-fi mechanism for real-time feedback and support.
The Like button is no longer a thumbs up for a job well done. It’s a slow clap to keep you going.