Latest Leah Pearlman News
Nov 26, 2016
Font Resize Inventor of Facebook's 'like' button, a part-time Boulder resident, finds validation within Author discusses new book 'Drawn Together: Uplifting Comics on the Curious Journey of Life and Love' Staff Writer Posted: 11/26/2016 11:00:00 AM MST An excerpt from "Drawn Together: Uplifting Comics on the Curious Journey Through Life and Love," by Leah Pearlman. (Leah Pearlman / TarcherPerigee/Penguin Random House) Leah Pearlman, who lives in Boulder part time, created the Facebook like button. (Courtesy photo) What would you post on Facebook if no one else could comment? If there was no like button? What would you like if no one else could see it? In other words, what presses your internal like button? When Leah Pearlman got a job at Facebook in 2006, she took a risk; everyone told her that MySpace had already won the social media game. But Pearlman, who lives part-time in Boulder and grew up in Denver, had a reputation for doing everything "right. " She was a diligent student, she studied at an Ivy League school (a goal she set when she was 5), and she was going to make a mark at her new job, too. She had no idea that her mark — a tiny blue thumb's up button — would completely transform social interactions around the world. It would also fuel her own struggles in a lifelong quest for external validation, but also ironically provide the platform for her to find her own voice and switch gears, from the tech world to becoming an artist and author. Her book, "Drawn Together: Uplifting Comics on the Curious Journey of Life and Love," was released last month. She has no book signings planned. She hasn't checked the sales numbers. The inventor of the like button barely goes on social media anymore. She hires someone to do it for her. This keeps her from getting caught up in that old cycle again. Pearlman recently spoke about conquering that craving for external validation — the very desire that inspired her to found the Facebook like button — in a TedXBoulder talk . Advertisement Almost the Awesome Star button The like button began as a simple solution to solve several problems: to minimize repetitive comment clutter (like a long list of the same "Congrats! " after good news), to give users a way to acknowledge they had seen a post without having to come up with something unique to say, to make it easy for posters to see how many people were enjoying something, and to help Facebook determine what to put in your news feed. It was originally called the "awesome" button. It was almost a star. It took nine months of work and hundreds of versions before Facebook's small staff got the design simple, small and clear enough. They almost scrapped the idea a handful of times, but Pearlman says she kept bringing it back up. "Every time the project would end and I used the site, it didn't feel complete. I knew it was missing," Pearlman says. "I felt like I was performing CPR on that project and it was constantly dying. I had to resuscitate it. I was too annoyed to be a user of the site without it. " Then Pearlman and a friend pitched the idea for Facebook Pages, originally designed for celebrities who had more than 5,000 friends, the website's cap (due to the mathematical complications of trying to determine mutual friends for such a large number). Pages were for people who still wanted to connect, but weren't really friend-friends. Small businesses gobbled it up. "I'm not sure we ever thought then it was going to be the marketing tool that it is," Pearlman says. But even with those two achievements on her resume, Pearlman says she still didn't feel satisfied. "I had been ambitious since I could remember, and I reached a place where that was never enough. I was never working hard enough. I never felt satisfied. I was never doing enough, always trying to keep up with everyone around me, and it was breaking me, internally, emotionally," Pearlman says. Then she found out her father's lung cancer had come back. She was nearly too busy to spend his final days with him, and that's when she realized she was not in control of her life, she says. Beyond the numbers Pearlman quit Facebook in 2011. She traveled the world. She tried anything new she could find. The devout atheist attended a Buddhist meditation retreat. She went to Burning Man. She was learning so much about herself and the world and she wanted to share it with her friends, so she started blogging about it. On Facebook, of course. But as many people know, posts get more clicks if you share them with an image. So she quickly sketched up a simple stick figure and attached it to the post. To increase reach. Then one day, an image she drew captured her whole message, with no need for the words. She began posting drawings alone. One a week. People began "liking" them. Sharing them. Her new career path took flight. She called her simple sketches with heartfelt messages Dharma Comics. "They all have the same flavor: a peek into my heart to see what's there, whether that's joy or loss or heartbreak or death or purpose, frustration about purpose, whatever's there — but I want us all to hold it lightly and gently and not make too big a deal of it. Just see it for what it is, and then let it go," Pearlman says. Seven years since her first comic, she has a website, a book and tens of thousands of Facebook fans on her Dharma Comics "Page," not that she's counting. Even though her new purpose, one driven by internal likes, she says, was birthed by Facebook. "The funniest thing to me is I built the two vehicles back then, like I built the ship that this rode on. It's really weird. It's almost like I couldn't have planned it better, but I definitely didn't plan it," she says. She sees the irony, and she says it's perfect. "On the 'hero's journey,' it makes so much sense that I was running in one direction and the healing path was running in the other direction," she says. Today, Pearlman says she is more satisfied, although she still has questions, and sometimes she still wonders what else is out there for her. Is there more? She says her happiness comes from honesty. It's exhausting to pretend, compete and try to please everyone, she says. It's exhausting to pretend to be perfect on Facebook, she says. Her comics became her outlet for being real. Pearlman says she doesn't care about book sales. But another part of her really wants to check. Maybe she will. But she says she will remind herself: The numbers don't mean anything. "I want to keep doing what I do, regardless of what the numbers say," she says. "I am not counting my likes. "