The 'Like' button is something anyone who's ever been on the internet is bound to be familiar with. Nowadays, it's most commonly associated with Facebook as a way to quickly acknowledge someone's status, but before it was introduced to Facebook in 2009, the Like button was a feature found on FriendFeed, the social site that was acquired by Facebook that same year.

FriendFeed, which was a social feed aggregator rather than a standalone social networking site, started life in October 2007, when a group of former Google employees got together with a common goal: to make web content from social networks more useful.

One of those former Google employees was co-creator of Google Maps and CEO of FriendFeed Bret Taylor, who was among the minds that came up with the concept of the Like button. When FriendFeed was bought by Facebook, Bret became the CTO of Facebook until 2012, when he left to found a brand new social-centred company: Quip.

We spoke with Bret to talk about his new venture, and also reminisce about the creation of the Like button and the secret to its success.

The power of Like

"We launched the Like button at FriendFeed in October 2007," Bret told us. "You could comment on mobile social networks at that point, but we got obsessed with being able to easily acknowledge someone's post without having to comment on it – a 'one click comment' if you will."

"When Facebook launched its Like button in 2009, it became a cultural phenomenon. Like became the standard for a quick and easy way to give feedback on content across the web."

But the FriendFeed's Like button didn't start off life the way it is now. "We originally tried hearts but it felt way too cutesy for FriendFeed's design," revealed Bret. "We ended up with just the word 'Like'."

Other social networks such as Instagram and Pinterest have adopted the heart version of the Like button, but essentially they all follow that same formula for easy acknowledgement.

"The power of the Like button is its simplicity," explained Bret. "With a single click, you can tell a friend that you appreciate what they've done. It's a small gesture, but it has also become a meaningful way to communicate and bring people closer together."

We asked Bret why there's never been a 'Dislike' button for statuses. There are several groups on Facebook petitioning for a Dislike button, some of them with more than 500,000 signatures. But Bret says a Dislike button could ruin the positive effects that social networks such as Facebook have on users.

"The positive feedback from someone liking your post on a service like Facebook has literally been researched and documented," said Bret, pointing us to numerous articles that include surveys, data and evidence to support the argument. "Everyone knows the rush of positivity you feel when a friend likes your post on Facebook or your photo on Instagram."

"Negative feedback can be just as powerful, and not in a good way, so generally we have steered away from things like a dislike button and left room for people to express disagreements in comments."

Social future

With the success of the Like button, Bret has decided to introduce the feature into his new venture, Quip, of which he is co-founder and CEO.

Quip is a productivity app that brings word processing into the mobile environment. It's designed to help you create documents, make edits and collaborate with others on any phone, tablet or computer.

"We're introducing the 'Like' button on Quip in an effort to bring some of those positive social interactions into the workplace," said Bret. "More than any other feature, the 'Like' button illustrates our deeply-held belief that the software we use to get work done should be as fun to use as the software we use outside of the office."

(Above: Quip's Like button in action)

"Since the iPhone was introduced in 2007, phones and tablets have transformed the way we interact with technology and each other," he continued. "Yet the software we use to be productive and to get work done every day has not really changed in the last 30 years. Quip is our perspective on how modern, mobile productivity should work."

The idea of adding a social aspect such as the Like button to a productivity app is to help promote a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. "Social networks take the most basic of human desires," Bret explained, "to connect with other people – and make it possible in a broad, simple way."

"The truly successful ones, like Facebook, are those that are able to both massively extend your reach while also making it feel more personal," Bret continued. "At this point, social networks have shown us the power of software to enable people to collaborate and share with their friends. Products that don't have a social element often feel siloed and outdated.

"Social is becoming not just a product, but also a way to design a product. More and more products that were traditionally focused around the individual are being built assuming that people will want to communicate and share with others on-the-go, whether at work or play."

Building a successful social app is "not altogether different from creating any kind of successful product - building something that people want and then focusing relentlessly on improving it and keeping it relevant," Bret concluded. " Of course, social networks do need a network effect to become and remain relevant - simply put, you go where your friends are.

"Some of the most interesting social products to arrive in the last few years have been in areas like music, fitness, and health. We are just starting to see the power of what happens when you mix things up and bring social elements to more 'traditional' products, like word processing, that have previously existed in siloes."