How Likes Went Bad

Facebook didn’t invent the feature, but they definitely broke it. How can we better regulate future disruptive ideas?

Matt Locke


The Accidental Invention of the Like

In 2005, Rob Manuel had a problem. Four years earlier, after the dizzying rise and crash of the dotcom bubble, he’d started a site called with his friends Denise Wilton and Cal Henderson. Like many post-crash projects, it was an attempt to build something more human and, well, funnier than the pompous, shiny-suited fantasies of dotcom-era startups.

At its heart, B3ta was a newsletter and a message board, two technologies that harked back to the pre-web communities of the early 1990s. B3ta was a place to share jokes, often in response to weekly image challenges that encouraged the kind of mashup amateur meme aesthetic that is now commonplace. It quickly generated a dedicated community of creative talent, sharing everything from simple image collages to fantastically surreal animations and parodies of art history.

By 2005, the B3ta community had grown so large that the simple message board–style front page was getting difficult to navigate. Manuel needed a way to curate the content so it was easier to find the good stuff.