Rethinking Facebook Reactions

Applying Fitts’ Law to social media interactions


Facebook released Reactions in February 2016, and it's never looked back. The interactive feature enables users to interact with posts and comments by selecting an emoticon in response. This feature is a huge improvement from the previous interaction tool, the Like button. Although the button was used heavily, it only communicated one feeling: Like. Since people demonstrate a wide range of emotions, Facebook decided to introduce five new emotions, in addition to Like: Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. Not only did this feature widen the ranges of responses users shared, it helped Facebook collect more specific, useful data from a person, helping to shape their personalized advertising strategy. 

As popular as Reactions are, there is always room for improvement. In this article, I attempt to make Facebook Reactions more user-friendly by employing Fitts’ Law, a key concept for designing human-computer interactions that describes how the size of a target and its proximity to the user’s position impacts user experience.  

Current Reaction Interaction

Facebook provides users the Like button as the default button for communicating a response. When a user feels differently, she can long press the Like button and all emoticons will appear linearly and the user can select one by tapping it. 

Why the Long Press?

There are two interactive steps to selecting an emotion other than Like: Long Press, then Tap. This is because the five new reactions represent much stronger emotions than liking something. As in the offline world, not everything will make users feel angry or laugh easily. It is more likely that users will simply acknowledge a post by clicking Like, and take the extra step to select a reaction when they actually feel more strongly than a Like. 

Also, since Facebook is so content-heavy, Facebook seeks to retain the most meaningful user data. Burying strong emotions behind a second interaction enables Facebook to filter users’ data to understand them well enough to send them targeted advertisements.

The Challenge

The issue with Facebook reactions happens after the long press. Because the reactions are displayed horizontally, the distance between the user’s thumb/cursor is different for every emoticon. According to Fitts’ Law, this is an issue. Because the distance between the current position and the targeted position determines the usability index of the intended action, increased distance means decreased usability for reactions further away from the user. In other words, reactions may be less genuine if users hesitate to click emoticons simply because they aren’t as close as the Like button is to their thumb/cursor. This can potentially impact the meaningful data collection Facebook intends to pursue.

“Less data is better than meaningless data.”

A Solution

With Fitts’ Law as a guideline, Facebook should reconstruct what happens after the long press to ensure that every reaction is equally accessible. Redesigning the interactive tab from a horizontal linear view to a radial interface view can solve this issue (see below) and facilitate more meaningful responses.

  • "Like" should remain the default response button

  • The selected emoticon should be a primary focal point, so users can still easily see how they reacted to a post

  • The long press action should remain, since users are currently familiar with that format and there is no clear incentive for changing it