Friday, 10 July 2015

The 'like' phenomenon

Facebook vs Apple Music

A lot to 'like' in both Facebook and Apple Music


What do you like? Maybe you like Taylor Swift, Barack Obama and Philadelphia. Or, perhaps, you like hot dogs, Arnold Schwarzenegger and soul music... if not all six of these things. Whatever you like, you have probably used that hugely popular social networking website, Facebook, to publicly indicate your fondness for these things. As will become clearer in this article, it can be easy to underestimate the degree of influence of Facebook's 'like' function since it was introduced in 2009.

It is difficult to miss the 'like' button during even the most cursory use of Facebook. All posts made by your friends can be 'liked' - all that you need to do is click on that little icon that looks like a hand indicating "thumbs up". You can even 'like' pages dedicated to various organizations and public figures, not to mention posts produced by these pages.

There's certainly an awful lot of 'liking' happening on Facebook, then. However, for many people, this has posed the question: has this online 'liking' become a bit, well, excessive?


We all think that we know why we regularly click that little 'thumbs up' symbol whenever we see fit. We do it to speedily show our friends what we have a preference for, in the process shaping our public identities. We also do it to keep track of fresh content that interests us; that could include new videos and songs released by our favorite musicians, or public interest stories from the local area where we live. Then, there are the opportunities to interact with celebrities and other like-minded people who use Facebook.

But does such an abundance of online 'liking' also have some less pleasant implications? This is an argument put forward by the social realist novelist Jonathan Franzen. Specifically, he has contended that Facebook's alteration of the "the verb 'to like' from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse, from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice" has exposed how consumer technology products promoted through Facebook pages can be "great allies and enablers of narcissism". British novelist Zadie Smith has expressed similar sentiments, suggesting that, for the "self-conscious" Facebook generation, "not being liked is as bad as it gets".

Although it seems a reflection of the huge cultural effect of the 'like' button that it has become the specific subject of serious commentary, regardless of its negativity, we reckon that the question needs to be posed: are these arguments not overstating the case? Writing for Arts.Mic, Alexander Strecker has dismissed these arguments that "seem to posit that your entire self worth is based on garnering these precious 'likes'", pointing out that the average person has plenty of "stronger feelings and emotions" outside the realm of Facebook and the other websites that have adopted 'like' features.


Indeed, quite a lot of websites have taken up the 'like' feature, probably in reaction to its widespread use on Facebook - though not all of these platforms have used the exact same name or format for it. For instance, in May 2011, Twitter introduced the 'Follow Button', while YouTube includes a 'like' button that can be clicked to add a video to a list of the user's favorites. A further twist on the basic premise of the 'like' sees the GPS tracking app Strava providing a 'Kudos' button to indicate approval of other athletes' activities.

So, it seems that a distinct 'liking' trend has emerged that could continue for many years and leave a multitude of other websites and services adopting similar functions in its wake. This brings us nicely onto the subject of the most recent major service to have recognized benefits of the 'like': Apple Music. Befitting Apple's long history as a trailblazer, the company has put 'like' to many unique purposes with its new music streaming service, including some that even its most obvious competitor, Spotify, has not incorporated.


Apple Music has certainly been well-received on social media - the sentiment analysis firm TheySay ran the rule over some 84,845 tweets about the service, and found 76 per cent of them to be positive. What's more, it's clear that Apple really wants to make use of the best of today's social media functions in the new service, while nullifying some of the aspects that have drawn ire down the years from cultural critics.

Spotify, for example, may have playlists that help to customize the experience for listeners, while sites like have their own radio functions based around various tags and genres. But as Apple's Eddy Cue and Jimmy Iovine explained to The Loop on their own service's launch, the songs on Apple Music Radio have been hand-chosen by human curators, rather than generated by an algorithm.

This means that rather than the somewhat random mishmash that so many other Internet 'radio' services have long thrown up, the playlists on Apple Music Radio have been put together with some thought as to what song is played and what songs are played before and after it. Cue has said that "One of the things we wanted with Apple Music was depth. We wanted you to be immersed in it when you started using it", and it's fair to say that the range of new 'like'-like functions makes that goal even more possible.


While the aforementioned use of real people behind Apple Music and its radio programming is more than welcome, it is how Apple makes use of the basic 'like' feature in new and interesting ways that will really get many people excited, not least in helping them to put together their own playlists.

Let's imagine that you are listening to one of the automated existing streaming services that are based on your favorite genre. Suddenly a certain song comes on that you like, but which you don't consider to be part of said genre. Do you 'like' it, and risk more songs appearing in the stream in future that don't fit your preferred genre? Or do you opt not to 'like' it, and potentially never hear it again?

Thankfully, Apple Music has some useful answers to quandaries like this. The aforementioned handpicking of the songs for the service's built-in Radio stations should mean that you feel less need to skip songs in any case, with fewer 'jarring' tracks than an automated selection would throw up. However, you might have also noticed the heart, or 'like' button that accompanies every radio song you play.

The great thing about this function is that you can tap it to indicate your fondness for the song, but thanks to the human curation of the playlist in favor of the traditional tuning algorithm, doing so will have no effect whatsoever on the songs that you hear on that radio station in the future.


That said, there is one section of Apple Music that is influenced by your tapping of the heart - 'For You'. This is the part of the service that caters for your more individual tastes through the assembly of custom albums, playlists and songs. For You keeps track of the music that you introduce to your library, as well as the songs that you play all the way through.

Head into For You to further tune this section by tapping and holding onto recommended albums that you dislike and selecting 'I Don't Like This Suggestion' in the resultant popup menu. This will teach Apple Music more about your tastes. You can also build your own station by tapping the 'Start Station' option for a particular band or song. This swaps the heart for a star, which you can tap to reveal 'Play More Like This' and 'Play Less Like This' options. These preferences are then reflected in what you hear on that station in future.


The 'like' phenomenon may not have been, well, 'liked' by absolutely everyone over the years, but there's absolutely no sign that it will go anywhere any time soon. Indeed, if the latest developments to the tried-and-tested 'like' formula in Apple Music are anything to go by, it will remain a key part of our lives for many years to come. But if you are one of those people who have always loved to 'like'... well, you have got a huge amount to get excited about with the Cupertino giant's new music service. by Benjamin Kerry & Gavin Lenaghan