The Sparkle Button

Jan 02 2019

I am not currently active on Twitter, but I gather there was significant grumbling over the inability to sort tweets chronologically, followed by elation when you could. They implemented this sorting feature with a ‘sparkle button.’ ✨ is the only label.

This made me realize a subtle trend in software recently. Companies are implementing difficult functions and labelling them with cute icons, emojis, etc. In Twitter’s case, the data is certainly organized to optimize their primary sorting algorithm, but now it must be compatible with timestamp too. They had to figure out how to best utilize the current structure of the data and different sorting algorithm’s tradeoffs to piece together an efficient feature. This isn’t necessarily a supremely difficult addition, but it’s harder than a like button. And they downplay it with the sparkle emoji.

Other examples I have noticed include Reddit and Slack. Reddit offers several sorting features as well: best, hot, new, controversial, top and rising. This is the Twitter problem, but much harder given the six dimensions of sorting. Moreover, these metrics mustbe measured and tracked constantly for each thread. Some, like controversial or rising, could certainly prove difficult to design. Yet they hide this functionality behind icons of rocket ships, flames, etc.

Slack uses lots of emojis and funny gifs to implement polling and reactions to messages in threads. They are responsible for highly scalable and rapid communication on dynamic teams and represent it with a comical front-end.

So why are companies doing this? I can only guess, but my thought is partially to be relatable and partially to feign nonchalance. Much of the software audience is young, so memes/gifs/emojis are practically second nature to many of their users. Additionally, hiding hours of development behind a playful sparkle, suggests someone like Twitter is saying, “Give me a real problem”; subconsciously building trust in their competence.