Here's a question: Has the Internet gotten too nice? And, if so, is a nice Internet really a good thing? These are questions Nathan Heller explores in "I Really Like That You Like What I Like." Among Heller's many findings—Facebook becoming an epicenter of niceness; good faith being indistinguishable from good speech; etc—he also provides a brief history of how the "Like" button came into existence. Two excerpts from Heller's essay appear below.

"Like the sixteenth-century Renaissance, which was incited less by a sudden burst in creativity than by a boom in the European business sector, today’s flourishing web has profited from corporate self-interest. 'A lot of the places where people might spout off, say nasty things, and the like are commercial sites with a business model built around people coming to them,' explains Malcolm R. Parks, a scholar of Internet interaction who teaches communication at the University of Washington."

"Facebook was among the first sites to realize that these habits offered a large-scale commercial opportunity within the existing framework of online social life. According to a 2010 account by director of engineering Andrew Bosworth, the LIKE button took shape in the summer of 2007 as the 'awesome button.' ('Like' seemed bland.) But by the time it finally went live, in early 2009, it was nearly ready for online commerce. Soon, users 'liked' not just posts but ads and 'sponsored stories.' These 'endorsements' were implicated in class-action suits, in California and New York and later nationally, with the plaintiffs claiming that minors whose names and images were associated with 'liked' products were being commercially exploited. These days, that seems like a quaint thought. Today’s webby world is one unconflicted about commercialization and remarkably unsqueamish about blunt salesmanship—a place where authors blithely tweet their favorable reviews, and acerbic ironists and stand-up comics turn unflinchingly to self-­promotion."

[via New York]