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Why I'm Done With Social Media Buttons (solomon.io)
159 points by jenniferDewalt on Feb 13, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 99 comments

The last time there was a rant like this, I did an analysis using real-world data:


The Nieman Journalism Lab followed up a few months ago:


While I don't actually disagree with your conclusion (and am more than confident that you know more than me about social media), this data only supports the hypothesis that "people share content using social media buttons", right? It doesn't necessarily refute the idea that "people will share content just as much if it doesn't have social media buttons" -- that is, there's no proof that the subset of Twitter links you found wouldn't be shared manually if there was no tweet button.

That's the problem with an audience like HN. We are not average internet users.

Oftentimes an ugly site with ads and popups everywhere will perform better than a beautiful, minimalist site. Sorry, but that's just reality.

[citation needed]

Oldies but goodies... I save these links to remind myself pretty and minimal doesn't necessarily mean better.

http://www.mrgreen.am/affiliate-marketing/the-ugly-truth/ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1338459

I can confirm this. All web projects I worked on which were minimalistic, clean and well designed had less stickiness (page impression count to visits) compared to sites stuffed with content, pics, links, extra widgets here and there.

That could just mean people found what they wanted.

No citation is needed for an unactionable assertion. Do you really believe in the entire history of every web page ever, this is untrue? The statement was more or less tantamount to use metrics to make decisions.

So you're saying you don't have any numbers to back that up?

I consider myself a "power user", relatively speaking, of the web...in that I know how to copy-paste URLs and titles into Twitter using all manner of computing devices. And I can even look up the author's Twitter account to ping them in the tweet. You laugh at that, but just yesterday I had a media professor tweet asking for my email address, even though it's listed several times on my blog and I can't direct-message her with that info until she follows me.

But I'm starting to find it inconvenient when social buttons aren't used. Maybe it's because I'm getting older...but partially because web developers are either moving too fast for me, or have no concept of graceful degradation. For example it is now impossible, from what I can tell, to provide a "right-click" tap on the New York Times website when you're on an iPad. That is, you can't hold to highlight text (which is helpful when tweeting the title of Tweet).

So call me a surrender monkey. Social buttons are the web-widget we deserve in the fractured development landscape.

Edit: I also have to dispute the OP's contention that the buttons are never used...blog posts of mine that get shared a lot almost always involve the Tweet button...It's easy to tell because I've configured the button to post the title and my name in a way that you wouldn't if you were manually creating the Tweet itself.

But I don't want to tweet the title usually I want to find a nice quote and edit to fit. If I can't and the site tries to editorialise me pasting to twitter then I will not tweet.

Note that the first link is written by the guy who started Upworthy. Those social media buttons are probably pretty awesome if all you're doing is repackaging other people's content with linkbaity/one-weird-trick titles.

But if you're actually in the content game? hmm..

> Note that OP is the guy who started Upworthy

I work for a very large e-commerce site and we did a similar test, we found that when we put Facebook like/share buttons on our product pages, social activity increased but it had a severe impact on conversion. My theory at the time was people were simply distracted - the second they saw Facebook, they got lost in all their friends status updates and forgot to come back and complete their purchase.

Edit: I should clarify - the extra traffic we received as a result of the extra social activity was tiny and in no way made up for the damage to conversion.

Nice. Numbers are good.

It's also possible to make your own social media buttons if you're concerned about the privacy/performance impact. I've done that for my own site and it's worked well so far. (although theoretically the tradeoff is that it leads to less sharing conversions)

This. I made my own for FB & Twitter. No external loading dependencies. Pages load so much faster. Feel free to view-source/copy: iknow.io/labs/

I'm with you in this. The question is, however, how it affects the number of shares? Did anyone take A/B testing with this?

Social media buttons are annoying and useless as well as a major privacy concern. Block them with adblock and the filter "Fanboy's Annoyance List" which can be found on this page: https://easylist.adblockplus.org/en/

Ghostery does it well too.

Still use it as well myself but http://disconnect.me/ is similar and fully FLOSS whereas Ghostery is sorta weird and proprietary and actually helps the ad tracking biz

Ughh, Ghostery isn't FLOSS, but that does not make the code invisible, many places where you can see it like: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/ghostery/vers... or ghostery.com/ghosteries/chrome/

And there is this: http://www.areweprivateyet.com

Would be interesting if http://www.areweprivateyet.com would test against more Adblock lists.. rather than a select few.

I use disconnect too, after I found that Ghostery had some weird clashes with other plugins. CPU thrashing around at 100% for minutes kinda clashes :(

For reference, I actually use Disconnect and Ghostery and DoNotTrackMe and NoScript and RequestPolicy.

And you can easily add custom filters using the "block an element on this page" option.

Sharing on social media is functionality that should be built into browsers or implemented with browser plugins (it should be a single click on some browser toolbar). There's no point in replicating it on every web site in a performance-hampering and intrusive way.

Interesting point. The default Android browser (at least the one on my increasingly dated Droid device) has a "share" menu item. The only things I use it for are to email myself articles or to post links to Readability.

The whole "Social" thing is .... largely annoying.

Yup, Chrome on my Nexus 5 also has the Share menu, and with the Facebook & Twitter apps installed (and also some App.Net clients), they all appear in the Share menu. It works well. On the desktop I use the Pocket & Buffer extensions instead.

Of course, out of sight, out of mind - if your audience isn't tech savvy, perhaps they need that visible reminder to share something.

I have always hated social media buttons. What surprised me about them was how everyone thought you needed them. There is also poor metrics for them, on your own site (or a client's site) there is really poor visibility on who has clicked those links. You would think that if they were that valuable people would at least know who clicked them but they don't.

Also the craft of redesigning the buttons annoys me. How many designer-years have been spent redesigning the Twitter bird? This activity completely goes against basic UX principles but you cannot tell designers the truth about that.

Remember page counters? I think a 'Predator vs Aliens' style sequel to social network buttons is needed where you can see x million people have viewed this page but 0 people have shared it on StumbleUpon...

I think an often overlooked issue is the type of social media button used on a site. All too frequently, you'll see every single media button at the end of a blog post or article, with no consideration as to whether it's appropriate or not.

For example, take a technical blog post about something to do with computers. Facebook-wise, why on earth would most people share this? It's technical, and only a few of my friends out of about 150 (the average is ~130 I'm told) are actually techies. The kind of post that goes on FB is mostly personal or funny, never work.

Whereas Twitter, I might have followers who have 10,000+ followers of their own, ready for retweeting. This is more like a public broadcast, therefore I will be reaching the demographic I want, regardless of whether I know these people or not. It's an entirely different marketing strategy and yet you'll almost always see the whole cluster of buttons, without any consideration to their appropriateness.

I agree with your point. Buttons facilitate sharing at the expense of poorer design. You can mitigate this somewhat by nudging people towards sharing it where you want them to put it.

I'm done with them because I don't see a reason that facebook should get to track my non-facebook browser activity.

I wish more web designers would think of the privacy violations they subject their users to, rather than just their own page impressions.

Same here, but it is really easy to get rid of both the buttons and the privacy implications via AdBlock, Ghostery or NoScript.

"...privacy violations they subject their users to..."

You lost me. Which privacy policies are they violating?

The primary reason you don't find social media sharing buttons on Wikipedia is they violate the Wikimedia Foundation Privacy Policy by loading you up with third-party tracking cookies.

The second reason is they are ugly as sin and most of the community hate them.

A distant third reason is you then have an argument about neutrality and inclusion - which sites do we include and why. Which is an argument nobody seems keen on having given reasons (1) and (2).

Here, the word privacy is referring to a general concept, not the formal policy of an organization.

Rule zero of Hacker News: never make an utterance without some appeal to an established authority.

The "I don't need facebook recording every website I go to" policy, the "twitter doesn't need to know I visited your blog" policy, etc etc.

More seriously, as others have said, the violation is of my privacy, not of some company's policy. Why did you jump to the other conclusion?

I don't actually have a EULA I make sites sign before I visit, but perhaps I should.

Social media buttons allow the parent org to track your online movements as they're loaded for various things.

Only when you're logged in.

No, they can still set cookies for their domain. These got loaded on every request to a button. It's probably not too far fetched to assume that they can correlate that data to your identity through various means. http://www.nikcub.com/posts/facebook-re-enables-controversia...

Are you suggesting that privacy only counts as far as some site's policy defines them?

Last month, we had 50,943 facebook likes, 23,935 twitter tweets and 820 G+ shares via that plugins on our website.

For Facebook, it is around 5% of all likes our articles collected. Not bad actually.

How much of it were bots?

Categorically speaking, does it matter?

Yes. Likes can be almost meaningless. Some may say categorically meaningless, but I am referring to bots farms liking at semi-random.

A share button in the browser is my favorite solution. Twitter and Facebook aren't tracking you, there aren't embeds to slow down sites, and the user knows where the button is every time.

In case you didn't know Safari has this built in.

Also the default Android browser (somewhat buried however).

Do other browsers still not offer this?

I agree, but what happens when you want to share just a part of the page, not the whole (for example, something on your tumblr dashboard)?

I think IE, of all things, had a feature a few releases back for exactly this scenario: a page could define some markup around the content that was shareable, and users could add browser plugins that picked them up and published them wherever they wanted. Does anyone remember what it was called?

> I think IE, of all things,

Not sure why it's a surprise that IE would add features that require proprietary markup.

> Does anyone remember what it was called?

Accelerators? http://ie.microsoft.com/activities/en-en/Default.aspx

On my site I made my own buttons. They're just a row of icon links that open in a new tab. No javascript, no loading from a 3rd party site, just a plain link.

Example: https://www.petekeen.net/life-of-a-stripe-charge

I like it, and I think I'm going to use this in some of my sites. Just a minor correction though: You should add the tag rel="nofollow" to the links so that the search engines won't accidentally follow them.

I disagree with this strongly. In instances when I've had content from my site go viral, Twitter and Facebook shares via buttons on the content have definitely had an impact.

...he says without sharing a single link to one of these anecdotal mega viral posts...

This is a bit disappointing to read.

I came in hoping to see "because I realize I am making an assumption as to my readers' willingness to be tracked across multiple web sites". Instead, I got "it doesn't work because nobody really uses them".

More articles like this please, because I have to convince other people that I'm working with that my design isn't broken because it doesn't have social media buttons slathered all over it.

I have always hated it. From a UX standpoint, it's just one more piece of distraction. I don't want your eyes looking at buttons, I want your eyes looking at my content.

(Or clicking on my ad, which I also hate but can't get rid of.)

Nobody should even be seeing them anyway. http://disconnect.me/ C'mon folks!

Internet is broken in a lot of ways including the Social Media Buttons. Reading this post made me think how seriously we need, for an example, Android style social sharing button in Chrome. Also text be kept as text and not something that is dynamic.

I wish I could +1 this post.

Are there any stats on the number of users that click buttons vs manually sharing the same link? Are we at a point in the maturity of social networks and user adoption, where it's no longer worth the annoyance trade-off (ie users will mostly share what they want to anyway, regardless of buttons)? I'd be pretty happy if I never used another social media button in a project.

The main reason why they are done:

- Facebook is not viral anymore and share or likes hardly bring extra traffic

- Twitter is mixed: in general you do not get decent traffic from them; but from time to time a +100K follower user either shares or retweets your thing and you get extra traffic or he/she initiate kind of virality (again this happens even for high traffic sites not very often)

- and of course they are just ugly

For some reason lately I've been thinking what you were able to prove with analytics. I just know people are sharing my stuff, but they aren't using the social sharing buttons. Especially in "our" industry (dev, design, marketing, etc) people would rather craft and curate a post then have it shared in some type of weird way on one of those buttons.

Here's a pretty lightweight way to include the functionality (and customize the look): http://cferdinandi.github.io/social-sharing/

I created a small JS snippet (still need to put that up on Github) to grab the counts too which is quite easy.

Nice work, your page is really fast. I'll keep an eye on it.

The count script would be handy. Thanks!

HN doesn't have a share button. But somehow a lot of stuff is shared on this site...

I kind of don't trust the ones with a facebook logon. Sometimes I have signed in and used some stupid app such as "do you make him horny in bed?", then it gets published to my timeline....

Makes me wary of such things these days.

Permission to publish is second screen with explicit preview of what the story will look like. You could not have enabled it by a single sign-on.

Doesn't Facebook timeline review prevent this?

probably, but I really can't see the effort in learning extra features of facebook. It maybe did ask me after a host of other yes /no type buttons to the point I wasn't paying attention. Easier not to touch the button when I see one.

If you're offended by the buttons, why not try a simple line of text w/ a hyperlink after the article?

"If you found this interesting, I'd love it if you would spread the word [on Twitter]"

As he said it depends on who the readers are. But regardless including a static version with just a link is a good idea for users on mobile and tablet. And also load time won't be affected.

The secret to social media "buttons" is to design your own and implement them with non-tracking intent URLs. Then they actually will become a tool of convenience for your visitors.

If your looking for a great resource for adding custom links with your own images for social media buttons


This solves: load issues, ugliness of buttons (you can style or use images however you like), social media button visitor tracking

I knew about social media buttons because I have been blocking them ever since they began but I was not aware of how widespread or rather ubiquitous they have become. What is the point of them? Doesn't facebook already have this functionality on their own page? Those share buttons seem to me like something that should be a browser plugin not part of a website.

The business model is to spy on your browsing/reading habits to build a better ad profile. Being able to deliver your browsing history upon subpoena is just a "business" side effect.

For my own personal case, anything tagged "social" or "share" in CSS is among the first stuff I strip (after anything that moves, slides, pops out, and/or is statically positioned) when restyling sites' stylesheets. Which I've done ... 980 times now.

If I want to share, the URL's fine and dandy.

There's social media buttons, and then there are social media buttons. The buttons that include actual numbers, like how many have Tweeted, +1d or Liked the page may prove to be more useful. It shows a user that they're not the only person that has viewed that page. It's not a 'ghost town'.

I often wonder how often this happens: Someone becomes frustrated with the website or its content, and the presence of the social media buttons encourages them to click and vent about their dissatisfaction. If the button wasn't just right there, the moment might pass.

I've noticed that my blog didn't have too much changes in terms of use when we talk social buttons. It didn't matter if they were at the top, bottom. People consume my blog on several devices and apps and they seem to share stuff with the apps itselfs.

I was done with them at least 2 years ago. There 're two kind of visitors on a website, one who would share it, and other who won't. Former would still share it if there are no buttons. Hence there is no point.

Timely post for me. I removed the "ShareThis" plugin from my blog last week due to the sleaziness and have been thinking of putting together a replacement. I guess in this case I just won't bother.

I hate the design of those buttons, but as a content producer, they are great validators of content. As in, "Wow, this post has 230K Facebook Likes, I guess I should read it!"


The one that immediately comes to mind is Information Architects."


Haha yeah… since when is this a major website? Not even in the top 100K… (alexa)

Sharing buttons make it easy for non tech users to interact with your content on desktop. The alternative for them is to open a new tab with the social network they use, and paste your link. You lose the people who are too lazy to do this (a large chunk of your audience, don't fool yourself into thinking your content is so amazing that people can't wait to share it).

English Wikipedia: Never has, probably never will. Top 5 website.

I use DoNotTrackMe for Firefox. It does not sell details to ad agencies like Ghostery does.

Heh, it may not sell it to ad agencies, but it sure sends data back to them.

DNTMe is probably the worst choice to use for tracking protection, heres a study we have on the topic http://www.areweprivateyet.com

Aah. I see this website is by Ghostery itself. Anyway, what makes you say DNTMe is probably the worst choice? I use it along with ABP, and in the cases I have observed so far (few hours), both Disconnect and DNTMe block almost the same things. Of course, Disconnect.me mentions a very big number but it is just the number of requests and not the actual number of 'trackers' blocked. I'm still doing more experiments, but so far both are almost the same. And the numbers Disconnect shows are buggy - they are sometimes different when you expand their sections.

And yes, still not going to use Ghostery. :)

Disconnect.me works similarly, and is free software.

Thanks, I'll take a look and compare both of them.

Take them off. Browsing on mobile is broken with these obnoxious buttons.

I have never in my life fucked with these things except page-load passively. Never placed one, never turned one on, never had a reason to click one. But I don't drink Coca-Cola either. Do these things really make the world go round? I mean, really? I mean do corporate bottom lines really depend on this shit? Or is it just that they absolutely have to wring every possible percentage point?

Remember web counters? It's like that.

In the sense that they're on everything, but serve a real purpose to almost no one?

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