Message Reactions Ranked

How I yearn for the days when everyone used the same way to communicate by text. Email is heavy and ugly now, but SMS wasn’t so bad in its heyday.

With that said, one of my favorite features of “modern” messaging is the ability to “react” to messages. This gives a level of nuance to conversations that I think is really valuable. In real-life conversation, it’s understood by most people that you don’t have to keep saying a lot of words to agree with someone when some simple body language will do. Laughter, nodding, smiling, frowning — these all play a huge role in conversations that affirm to the speaker that someone is listening, processing, and responding.

In text, we often lose that nuance. I’m a huge fan of the radical acceptance of emojis as part of the informal office communication ecosystem. While obviously in most cases you’re not going to go sending emojis in your client-facing emails, just the ability to communicate tone to your colleagues is increasingly more important as more and more of us shift to working remotely some or all of the time.

With that said, I think some of the apps out there (whether for work or play) do reactions better than others. Here I’ll lay out which ones I think are great and which ones suck.

Facebook Messenger – 8.5/10

Say what you want about Facebook, but messenger is the king of personal messaging apps as far as I’m concerned. In terms of reactions, it allows access to basically the entire Unicode standard emoji library, and allows you to set custom favorites for quick use. On mobile, you have access to a text search, but I’ve subtracted half a point as this is conspicuously missing on the web client. The only thing I wish it had were the ability to add multiple reactions to the same message, for those moments when one emotion simply doesn’t cover it.

Instagram DMs – 8/10

Almost the same as Facebook. Allows favorites, allows text search only on mobile, probably sharing part of a codebase at this point. Only issue is that it’s conspicuously missing some emojis on each platform (I need my 🥺 reaction, thanks).

WhatsApp – 4/10

Reactions are, weirdly, a relatively new addition to WhatsApp, and are limited to a fairly standard selection of reactions with the notable absence of “angry,” instead replaced with the praying/thanks emoji. All-in-all, I’m sure this is just an incremental rollout and we’ll see more in the future considering WhatsApp, like Facebook and Instagram, is Meta intellectual property now.

Telegram – 6/10

I don’t really use Telegram except in the occasional niche case, but its reaction system is the strangest I’ve seen so far. Reactions are animated, and the selection is limited but more expansive than the standard limited fare (you can scroll to the side to access the rest, for a total of 16 reactions). Generally you’ll get what you need from the selection, but it’s still missing the nuance of the full unicode standard.

Discord – 10/10

Discord succeeds where others have failed — it allows uploading custom reactions. Additionally, with Discord Nitro or Nitro Classic, you can even carry those to other servers and direct messages, maintaining a sense of community identity. Additionally, the full Unicode set is present across all servers and DMs. It also supports animated emojis and reactions, and supports adding multiple reactions to one message. This is a great experience.

Slack – 9.5/10

Slack effectively has the same feature set as Discord — supports custom emojis, animations, and unlimited reactions. The only shortfall is that while it’s possible to create inter-server slack rooms, functionality for custom reactions seems limited in that sense. I think that’s appropriate for a professional environment, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to react in other slack servers with my cat’s face.

Microsoft Teams – 5/10

Teams, as horrible of a platform as it is, has perfectly acceptable mediocre reactions. They’re gently animated and limited to the classic selection. I’m glad it’s there…but if I’m using Teams, I’m already crying myself to sleep at night so the reactions don’t do much to alleviate that.

iMessage – 3/10

(iMessage screenshot borrowed from here)

I’m not an iPhone user, and by extension I’m not an iMessage user. Debacles with iMessage swallowing people’s texts when they change phones over the years have been equal parts sad and hilarious. I don’t have anything against iPhones (the phone wars are stupid, use what you like) but I do think the way Apple does its weird split SMS cover-up thing is bizarre and unnecessary. Because of the way iPhone tries to steal SMS between iPhones and convert it to rich iMessage instead (rather than just making them separate), reactions sent to non-iPhone users appear with some weird blob of text like “Loved ‘quotes your whole message here so you know which one they were reacting to’ and I think that’s weird as hell. Additionally, the reaction palate is limited, colorless, and without character.