Something that's stuck with me in social software design is the importance of selecting verbs. This notion appeals to the linguist in me, but I truly believe that it's a really significant step in the process of design. In Jyri Engestrom's superb, and in some ways canonical, work on social objects, defining verbs is one of the five key principles he talks about (see the full presentation to discover the other four).
When I was mucking around with designing Wordr (yes, I know, it needs some love and attention), the key verb I picked for the service was 'say' - as this felt like the best term to describe the very immediate way in which words are uttered.
Facebook has used 'share' as the verb for posting content to the site for a while now - this covers everything from text updates to uploading photos, or posting links. However, the recent trend on the site has been towards an even more lightweight form of interaction - the 'like' button.
'Liking' must be the most anodyne sentiment you can possibly express. It's precisely because of this that it works for Facebook - users only have to feel the most slight of connections towards a brand or a bit of content in order to feel able to press the button.
Greg Povey did a presentation on 'Enthusiasm' the other night in which he complained that "The “Like” button is changing our responses to a binary yes/no or up/down", and I can't help but sharing in his discomfort with the increasing ubiquity of the button (which must be now be on millions of pages thanks to Facebook's easy-to-embed scripts).
I've just discovered that Facebook does offer one alternative: 'recommend'. You can use this verb instead of 'like' when configuring their embeddable button. It seems to be targetted at news organisations, in order to alleviate the uncomfortable juxtaposition of having the 'like' button on grim murder stories (as illustrated by Martin Belam).
'Recommend' is perhaps a little better than 'like' (it at least implies more of a social motivation), but it's not hugely different. What could other alternatives be?
There's a reasonably popular application on Facebook (over 2,000 monthly users) which adds a 'dislike' button to various status updates. It doesn't seem to work that well though, and I'm not sure that 'dislike' is the answer (though it's at least a bit more provocative).
It could be interesting to create a service where 'agree' and 'disagree' were the main verbs though. This might encourage people to post opinions, rather than just factual statements of intent. Plus it'd be pretty difficult to press 'disagree' without explaining why you're disagreeing, which then prompts a healthy debate.
Another option is to let users pick their own verb. This is something that Get Satisfaction does really well. Whenever I’m submitting a bug report or a feature request using the service, filling in the ‘how does this make you feel’ box always makes me stop and think for a few seconds. In some ways, it’s the hardest bit of the form to fill in. But I think that’s positive. As James Boardwell has articulated, introducing a bit of friction can be a good thing.