With 1.35 billion users, Facebook is sitting on a mountain of data. In February, as an idea that came out of its 10th anniversary, the company started offering customizable “Look Back” videos that populated a heavily designed, slide show-type thing with photos froms users’ personal data troves. At the time Facebook hinted that it wanted to create other user data-driven projects. Today the company unveiled “Say Thanks.”
This new type of video is all about expressing gratitude to “a close friend, your significant other, a relative, a coworker, an old friend—or anyone else in your life who you’d like to celebrate.” As Facebook says in its announcement, “Your friends are at the core of your Facebook experience, and we are always looking for new ways to help you celebrate those friendships.”
But the problem with “Say Thanks” is that it’s really not a good way to say thanks. It’s true that thank-you notes have been placed in a strange purgatory by remaining in the physical realm of paper and pen, but it may be because saying thank you feels like it means more if someone put in effort beyond just typing a quick email or text. As Julia Turner once wrote in Slate, “The thank-you note … is a difficult form, only slightly less tricky than the villanelle. The smallest notecard can seem a yawning canvas and reduce even the best writer to adverbs and redundancies.”
The fact that society still values written thank-you notes doesn’t mean that a heartfelt digital thank-you isn’t possible. But, as you can see above, “Say Thanks” is just an amalgam of everything that’s impersonal about digital gratitude. It’s full of clichés like thanks “for the good times we’ve had” and for “being a friend.” And even with the personal images, the background graphics make the videos seem more like Facebook proper than an intimate mode of communicating gratitude to a friend.
It’s hard to say what we really feel, and when people make “Say Thanks” videos they will presumably be doing it for the right reasons. But it’s one thing to wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook, and another altogether to call them, write them, or see them on that day. “Say Thanks” has the same limitation.