Nix Or Not: Social Media Buttons

Here we go again. Today, a link was being shared around our office and in my Twitter stream. It was a link to an article .Net Magazine ran Wednesday, featuring expert opinions on the content of another opinion piece it had run back in May. The upshot of the first piece is that social buttons on websites are dumb and should be done away with forthwith. The upshot of Wednesday’s piece is that some people agree with the first piece, whereas some other people do not agree with the first piece.

Here, I took a screen shot of the title and byline so I could share it with you:

I especially like the positioning of the social media buttons directly beneath the title, although I’m not personally a fan of treating comments so differently than social media buttons, and I furthermore find myself wanting to know how many people have tweeted, liked, plus-oned, inlinked (come on, it should be a word), or manually grabbed the shortened URL from the URL button instead of manually grabbing the full and descriptive URL from the browser’s URL field. Still though, the presence of the buttons themselves makes a strong editorial statement atop this hotly debated opinion piece.

Design purists, content creators, and user-experience advocates tend to point to buttons like these as distracting at best; systematic, performance-killing uglification+exploitation at worst, and wish for their demise en masse. And what analytics data I’ve seen don’t generally offer weighty counter-arguments in their favor.

But I took a few quick, informal polls outside of my immediate, technically inclined circle of coworkers and professional peers, and the results were surprising. My mom adores the button that lets her send me New York Times articles. My sister and my wife both use the Facebook buttons – almost without looking at the button’s function. (I’m going to sit them both down for a very sharable privacy lecture at our next family reunion.) My adolescent son will “like” practically anything with a “like” button attached to it, but the majority of those he encounters find him already inside Facebook’s walled garden – on their iPhone app, no less. Even a couple of my coworkers admitted to using these things. I mean, seriously, my head is a little spinny at this point.

Discoveries like these challenge what we believe to be “best practices,” and I lovehate them (shh, also a word) for so doing. They force us to rethink our attitudes and beliefs and maybe slow down a little bit with all the experteering (uh huh, also a word), and be open to what people – clients as well as users – tell us they want. That’s a kind of comforting reboot to take into the weekend, and I just wanted to share it with you before I head home to feed my dog and relax for the evening.

Wait a minute. Did that make it sound like I’m a fan of sharing?