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  • Writer's pictureJohn Rae-Grant


Updated: Apr 13, 2020

I've been promising to post an article about verbs, and now my friend Carlos Cardona has positively shamed me into it. To recap, verbs are the actions that we've come to expect we'll be able to take with content pieces no matter where we go on the web. Any content site that doesn't allow these verbs seems deficient, and will annoy the entrenched user. I see the following as ubiquitous already: Share: Originally coined as "digg", this verb has become generalized to mean "repost this somewhere with my comment". As such, the sharing action has to be disambiguated, with the user specifying whether he/she is "posting" to Facebook, "tweeting" to Twitter, "sending" through email, "digging" on Digg, or posting through "buzz". Other sites benefit from this generalization, as there's very little incremental cost in adding another social network to the list of possibilities. Send: A subset of Share, generally email, SMS, and Twitter. Follow/Watch: "Send me updates when something happens". I don't know who wants to claim this, but following a twitter user is a heck of a lot like watching an ebay item. There's a lot of interchangeability between these terms, with watching generally referring to an inanimate object (thread, item, show), and following referring to people. Like: "Add my name (and possibly comment) to the list of people who like this." Liking generally adds to the total, and adds my username to a list which users can drill down to. Liking shows up directly on the originating site, though Facebook has tried to own "liking" by adding APIs that let other sites leverage their like system (and hence give away all of that info about who likes what). Comment: "Add my attributed comment to this item." Comments can be quite simple (tweet length 140 char) or include photos, voice, video. Comments show up on the content site itself, therefore opening it up to abuse, and, in some cases, liability. Save / Read Later: "Squirrel this away somewhere (usually locally on my device) for later reference". A particular pet peeve of mine is when a site/app doesn't have save, and I have to send to myself - friction. Rate: "Share a 1-5 star rating of this, possibly with a comment". I'm nto sure who started this - slashdot, aol, yahoo, or other, but the stars and color coding seem to have been perfected and propagated from Netflix. Login: "Attach my subsequent actions to a named user account". OK, so no one really wants to log in, but we want what logging in gives us - saved articles, greater relevance, higher priority ranking on our comments. We accept the requirement that we give our email and make up a username in order to get these benefits. Vote: "Choose from among alternatives, often yes or no". Voting is often used in surveys, with the carrot for participation being the ability to see the aggregate results. Sign: "Affirm my agreement with this, and use my name". Virtual democracy has spread from political activism to user-driven design, as we're asked to weigh in on alternatives. Larger community sites are having to deal with an engaged electorate, which expects to have influence over its own governance and changes to things like privacy policy and terms of use (take note Facebook). Join: "Make me part of this community". Usually a nice way of getting added to a mailing list, joining can be quite deep, though I have yet to see a good hierarchical model that actually makes joining make sense. Invite: "Send the offer to join to a list of email addresses or usernames". If I'm into something, chances are that I will want to involve my friends. An invite has a higher level of expectation than a share - like an appointment rather than an email FYI. Good systems track and ping these invites, so that the loop gets closed one way or the other. Reply: "Respond appropriately to the person(s) who sent me this". Reply operates differently for share or invite. This subsumes RSVP activity. Mark as Inappropriate: "Let whoever needs to know that this content isn't in keeping with the goal of the site/app". A special case of tagging, mark as inappropriate is often required to keep host companies off the hook for UGC. Tag: "Associate this item with the following keywords". Tagging is sometimes shortcut by having specific tags available as one-click buttons: "funny", "news", "adult". The scope of the tagging is usually this site only, though many have tried to break out of this (digg, delicious). Check-In: "Register me as being here, now". One of the newer and stranger verbs, checking in has rapidly spread from marking physical presence (through foursquare, gowalla and others) to marking current attention on this item. I've been tracking companies that are allowing product check-ins, game check-ins, even check-ins on other users' profiles. The attraction seems to be that the user gains something (the ability to become mayor, or points, or coupons) in return for which the user returns to the app or site with startling regularity. So, that's the current list of verbs. If you have additions, please suggest them in comments (see you can even do some verbing right here on, or send to me directly. In the next verbing article, I'll cover what the objects are of these verbs, and some interesting combinations we might expect to see soon.


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