“No, Twitter, I didn’t want to shove that in all my friends’ faces, I just wanted to let the author know I liked it!”

“Wait, if I heart this, who sees that?”

“Hey, +Person? Hello? @Person? Can you see this?”

“Save for later. No, that’s public! Crap. Wait, I mean, send to bookmarks. No, wait, heart. No, um…”

You, possibly, when faced with the array of options below every damn post on social media.

A superfluity of options

As a designer, I know there are a number of things I want someone to do when they see a post. As a customer, there’s a different set, but they overlap.

The first set of things are atomic: you do them, and that’s it, there’s no other step:

  1. Feedback: Nice job! (Send feedback to the author)
  2. Share: My friends should see this!
  3. Guide: I want to see more things like this.
  4. Bookmark: I want to read this / remember for later
  5. Weigh in: I agree with this; or see below.

The problem is that five is a lot of controls. We’ve settled on three, usually; but we have a hard time remembering what these three do on this medium as opposed to another.

We need to go…deeper

Each of these atoms has some variation and detail, too, and sometimes the detail makes you use the tool a little differently.

“Weigh in” is actually a number of things in combination:

  1. The spectrum [endorse … agree … disagree … consider harmful]: I have an opinion, which might include “this is awesome”, “this is problematic”, “this is hate speech”, “this is spam”, and everything between. Facebook canonized this a while ago with the reaction-faces, because “Like”ing someone’s funeral notice seemed a bit crude.
  2. Directed vs. Broadcast vs. For the Admins: I want the author to know my thoughts; or my friends; or everyone; or possibly I want to talk to the moderators. It’s rarer to give users control over this directly, though Twitter recently has started letting you pretend to talk to to the algorithm. (I have my suspicion it’s the Door Close button of the internet, however.)

Each combination of these two is useful. Most systems let you select “broadcast endorsement” as an atomic option, or “flag for admins as spam/problematic”, but others are useful too. For example, I’d like a “flag as propaganda to my friends only” button on Facebook articles; it wouldn’t prevent them from seeing it, but it would add context for my less-skeptical friends.


There’s a second set, which involve further communication:

  1. Respond: I want to respond to the author directly.
  2. Quote: I want to comment on this where my friends can see.
  3. Follow: I want to further engage with the author, or with this stream of content.
  4. $$$: I want to support the author (financially, or other means)

These are not mutually exclusive, though many platforms split them up. Twitter used to hide direct @-replies, leading to the “conference call” pattern of at-ing people. Quote-tweeting lets you add commentary to a tweet, as does resharing on Facebook. Most social networks let you follow a creator, but it’s often by identity (“follow Alex Feinman”) rather than by category (“follow social media”. Medium is unusual in that it does allow this in combination (“follow Alex Feinman when he posts things about social media”).

Patreon /etc. let you follow-and-$$$ people you like, including “give $$$ when Person posts a new thing”; this seems useful, and worth porting to new media. Medium lets you $$$ a particular post, if you’re a member, but ties it together with “guide” and “endorse”.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of useful combinations here.

You’re confused because it’s confusing

And so we’re left with the combination of a nicely complicated social world. Human society is complex, and rightly so, and so these attempts to simplify it to a handful of controls necessarily flatten out interesting wrinkles.

But perhaps this lexicon will help you think about what you’re really provided with, in the future, when you see that set of like/heart/clap/plus/follow controls.

This is the obligatory part where I remind you that this post is self-referential, and encourage you to use the Clap button many many times if you found this content useful. Because Claps are all of these: “nice job!” and “share with others” and “$$$” (for members, though I see no money from it personally), sent in a broadcast manner.

Obligate infovore. Antiviral blogger. All posts made with 100% recycled electrons, sustainably crafted by artisanal artisans. He/him/his.