Since apparently there's not already enough negativity on Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced today during a Q&A that a "dislike" button is in the works for the social media giant:
"People have asked about the dislike button for many years. We’ve finally heard you and we’re working on this and we will deliver something that meets the needs of the larger community.” — Mark Zuckerberg
This is a sharp reversal for Zuckerberg, who only nine months ago during a similar event described the feature as not "socially valuable" and "not great for the community."
So what's changed in those short nine months? First, it should be noted that it's not a 100 percent certainty we'll actually get a thumbs-down feature to complement the like button. Zuckerberg cited the examples of death notices and funeral invites, not generally the stuff folks want to "like." If Facebook is going to facilitate negative emotions, it wants it to be sympathy/sadness/empathy rather than disgust.
That said, here's point number two: Facebook might be entering a decline phase. The medium hasn't gotten the best press in recent months and it hasn't really been "cool" since your grandma joined a few years ago. Plus, that damned algorithm has taken away user autonomy and the company hasn't offered any particularly appetizing concession to make up for it. That's a problematic strategy when your user base has plenty of other options for its social media whims. This alienating effect was a key point in a conversation we had with former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki a few months ago:
So how does a company deal with a popularity hiccup? It takes a bit of advice from the great American philosophers, The O'Jays:
Give the people what they want. Zuckerberg is a whole lot of things; very, very smart is one of those things. So far he's proven himself fully capable of pushing his customers to accept lucrative new structures. He's always had a firm grip on the public's pulse, knowing exactly how far to go when engineering change. If the people want a dislike button, find the best way to appease them without giving up too much ground.
That's Zuckerberg's forte. It's how he does business. We'll see if he can pull it off once more with this new feature, or whether he's ticketing himself for a one-way trip to Downvote City.
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)