Twitter morphing stars into hearts is being almost uniformly heralded as a business decision — numbers aren't good; anything is better — but let's look at it from a interaction design perspective. Could this tiny twist make more people literally heart Twitter?
That's the first thing I wondered. In a data-driven user-experience world where simply tweaking a shade of blue supposedly can garner clicks, can changing stars to hearts really change hearts and minds? More importantly, can it get more people to tap that tiny icon in the name of engagement?
Personally I think switching from stars to hearts is intended to be more of a CYA UI detail than a game changer.
— Khoi Vinh (@khoi) November 3, 2015
@danbenjamin They're just removing low-level friction from the UX. Doubt they expect major boost from change.
— Khoi Vinh (@khoi) November 3, 2015
Several designers I reached out to thought it wasn't that big of a deal. It's the endlessly debated Likes vs Favourites conversation, which isn't really a debate to some UX designers. People use whatever button you give them.
— Patrick Neeman (@usabilitycounts) November 3, 2015
But one thing I often hear people say is that they don't "get" Twitter. Could the heart help demystify Twitter a little by making the service feel more accessible to more users? You know, a human touch?
Not sure I like the heart (so to speak), but do like how Twitter seems to be making efforts to be more intuitive to more people.
— Liz Danzico (@bobulate) November 3, 2015
Maybe people understand hearts. We use them a lot already. In fact, they are almost too prevalent in interaction design. Our own Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan's excellent taxonomy shows how hearts are beating strong across social media.
That is probably the most puzzling thing of all. Twitter's star was different. Why they decided to switch to a heart when they had years of star-power is very puzzling.
Twitter claims they tested the heart, by the way, and that people "loved it" more than the star:
The heart, in contrast, is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people.
Wait, pretty sure there are stars in other time zones. Is a heart really more universal than a star? There are many more stars then there are hearts in the universe.
@awalkerinLA Nope! Simply sharing Twitter's intent to use a more universal symbol.
— Noun Project (@nounproject) November 3, 2015
Yes, maybe hearts are more universal, but they also seem to mean something. Something that makes some users... uncomfortable. Ugh.
— ˗ˏˋ blige ˎˊ˗ (@THECAROLDANVERS) November 3, 2015
One thing that Twitter didn't really consider (or maybe they did!) is that a lot of people use the star in a very utilitarian way.
Unrelated: When I "like" a tweet on Twitter, I'm just queuing it for later reading. I probably don't really like it. Now get off my lawn.
— Adrian Roselli (@aardrian) November 3, 2015
It's more like a bookmarking tool for those of us who no longer have Google Reader (RIP Google Reader).
Additionally, the star has its own inherent interaction language as a type of read receipt. As in, "Yeah, I heard you."
Instead of hearting tweets, I'm just going to reply with "Acknowledged."
— Erika Hall (@mulegirl) November 3, 2015
It also was a way of acknowledging things that you might not necessarily want in your own timeline, as this Medium story on favourites by Tressie McMillan Cottom argues very eloquently. The "This Tweet Made Me Laugh or Think But No Way In Hell Am I Retweeting It" Fav.
Stars mean many things when a heart only means one thing, as my colleague Leslie Horn astutely pointed out at Deadspin:
Favs were a way for people to bookmark tweets about stuff they wanted to read later, or call something out sarcastically, or obliquely flirt, or dozens of other arcane and weirdly personal things. Since then, "like" has become less a tech-speak thing and more just how people talk, uh, IRL. A star could mean "good job" or "fuck you" or "I'll come back and decide later," but a heart pretty much means the same thing, to everyone, all the time.
Agreed. There's much, much less nuance in a heart.
But switching to hearts might actually be more of a business decision than we could ever guess. Twitter might want to find out what you really like. This is how Facebook targets their ads. And we know Twitter is doing some big ad deals.
Twitter❤️ effort to create consistent meaning for faves? Tracking what people ❤️ likely creates tighter ad profile than what they bookmark.
— Josh Clark (@bigmediumjosh) November 3, 2015
But there's something to Leslie's point — why can't we just say "good job" or "fuck you" instead?
Thanks to a nice little hack, you can change the heart to any emoji you want, which amplifies the point that what we really need are more options, not less.
These new twitter buttons are fucking ridiculous pic.twitter.com/q2d5hKpWBN
— TechnicallyRon (@TechnicallyRon) November 3, 2015
Maybe Twitter could take a page from Slack where you can actually annotate comments with emoji — and they also have straight-up stars, for purists (and for easy bookmarking).
This way I could express how I truly feel about your tweet (which is turd-eggplant-middle finger) in a way that all of your followers will clearly understand.
Hey, the important thing to remember is that the button itself has not changed! Whatever it meant to you before, it still means the same thing now.
But only you know what it means, deep down in your heart.