X Media™ Company

X Considers Removing All Engagement Counts and Buttons on Posts

Okay, this is going to take some consideration.

Yesterday, fresh off of revamping link previews on X, which now sees preview cards only display the header image, owner Elon Musk made another announcement about the future of the X UI.

Elon Musk tweet

All of the interaction counts and action buttons, except the views counter, which X added back in December (also at the request of Musk), will soon be gone from view in feeds, and will only be visible within the post details, i.e. when you expand a post.

So, eventually, posts in-stream will look like this:

X no button example

Which seems flawed, in a range of ways.

For one, it’ll reduce post engagement, which we already know based on Instagram’s test of hidden like counts back in 2019. Research showed that overall post interactions declined significantly for influencers who were in the regions where the test was implemented, with the lack up upfront metrics directly altering user behaviors.

You’d presume similar impacts on total re-posts, with peer actions having at least some effect on broader behaviors.

That may not be a bad thing, as we should all be basing such on how we personally respond, not how others engage. But with likes and retweets also having an impact on post reach, as per X’s open sourced algorithm, you can bet that a lot of platform influencers, who are now looking to maximize engagement in order to boost their ad revenue share, will be none too pleased if this is implemented. 

Instagram further noted that people often use like counts ‘to get a sense for what’s trending or popular’, and taking them away impacted this. X is the home of real-time engagement and trends, so that would likely be even more of a factor in this case.

Essentially, removing the immediate response options and counts will inevitably see them used less. And with X recently revealing that the majority of activity in its app is via re-posts and quotes, that’ll likely see overall activity in the app decline, by a lot.

From one perspective that could be a positive, with past research suggesting that re-posting, and the ease of re-sharing a message in the app, greatly amplifies misinformation. So maybe such a change would limit the spread of fake news, but it’s X that’ll need to sell its ad partners, and users, on the concept that less engagement is actually a good thing.

For context, X says that it currently sees 500 million posts per day, with 300 million of those being re-posts and quotes.

Depending on how this is enacted, it could also impact post sharing, with the share icon likely to also get less emphasis in the updated display, which would also limit expanded discussion and interaction.

X has further clarified that it would be looking to implement more gesture controls as an alternative, like double-tap to Like, and swipe to reply. But I can’t see that being as effective, while the removal of the engagement numbers could arguably be the bigger impact.

But on the flip side, could it work?

The benefits would be less competition on vanity metrics, with reach becoming the main focus. That could put more emphasis on the post content itself, while it might also actually drive more direct post interactions, in terms expands, click-throughs, etc.

The switch to only view numbers would also bring X more into line with YouTube’s metric display, and with X looking to put more emphasis on video content, that might also make sense.

But it’d be a big shift, which would take some time to get used to for many users.

The problem with that is that X needs to maximize its revenue, in order to get back to break-even, and even beyond that, due to the company now being saddled with billions in debt. With this in mind, can X weather lower than expected performance, and the resultant impacts, in the short term, till user behaviors re-align with this new display?

Essentially, it’s not hard to predict what will happen, because we’ve already seen it with IG’s similar test. The question is whether it’s worth implementing, as a means to shift user behaviors, and reform how in-app engagement works.

It’s a risky approach. But I guess, that is what Elon does, so… good luck?

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