Why Twitter Favorites Aren’t Really Your Favorite Tweets

Posted on Jun 10, 2011 | 102 comments


Twitter is an ephemeral service. It’s what I love about Twitter. When I’m in the mood to consume what my world is telling me right now I can “tune in” to Twitter and digest the rapid stream. I don’t really worry about missing stuff. If somebody wanted me to see something they’d @ message me, which I always read. And as I’ve written about in the past, I truly believe that Twitter networks are significantly different from other social networks.

The downside to this rapid stream is that at times you come across super interesting articles that you want to read but for which you don’t currently have the time. How do you deal with this scenario? For me, when I use Twitter on my Blackberry I email the Tweet to my gmail account and I read them later. I auto filter these in Gmail so I essentially get a reading list of future articles. I think a lot of people do this if their mobile Twitter client supports it.

The way that I used to deal with it on Twitter.com itself was to “favorite” the Tweet so I could come back to it later and I always suspected that’s how other people used favorites (other than Robert Scoble who seems to use it to create a reading list for other people. Check out what some enterprising entrepreneur from Finland did).

Recently Twitter added a new service that emails you when people RT you or favorite one of your Tweets. I started getting a ton of emails in my Gmail account saying people had favorited my Tweets, which I promptly fixed by filtering these. But seeing who was “favoriting” my Tweets made me think about this feature. I assumed they weren’t really their “favorite” tweets. I supposed maybe they were “liking” them in a Facebook sort of way. But I doubted it.

This morning I decided to ask on Twitter what people actually did. It’s another reason I love Twitter. You can have an instant discussion about a topic with a broad group of people. Nice. From the responses it would appear to me that 90%+ of the people use “favorite” like Instapaper – in other words as a way to save something to read later. 5% said to really “like” something and 5% said “a bit of both.

If I were Twitter I would rename this feature and make it clear that it’s saving the article to read later or some other clever title like “reading list.” If they feel the need to have a way to “like” something they could make this a separate feature. That way they could support both use cases.

Favorites never mattered until now. But since they are informing people that you have favorited their Tweet it might change behavior once people think about it. I might like to read an article but I don’t want that person a priori to think that I “favorited” it. I haven’t even read the damn thing yet. And telling them I favorited them feels a bit creepy to me (unless I intended to as a sign of respect or interest).

[update: Josh Elman of Twitter correctly points out that my data of responses isn't large enough and certainly not unbiased since I assume I have more technical followers. That said, there really are two use cases so I'd probably still recommend a "save" feature. Thanks, for weighing in, Josh. Another great Twitter use case - instant customer support!!]

What do you think? How do you use “favorite” today? Lest anybody think this is a criticism of Twitter – my goal was to have a dialog and see what other people think. Converting Twitter conversation to a threaded Disqus one.

  • http://myindigolives.wordpress.com/ Ellie K

    Yes, I favorite Tweets almost exclusively for the purpose of bookmarking. Just as described! Why? Because Diigo (social? it works fine for anti-social types too) bookmarking service will save “favorite-ed” Twitter messages to my Diigo account, 20 per day, as part of their free service. Probably more if I were a subscriber. Any Tweet ending with hash tags are tagged in Diigo, sans # of course. 

    I’ve noticed occasional emails, about favorite-ed Twitter updates of mine. Not a frequent occurrence, nor bothersome to me (not yet). Of more concern is the fact that I am generating the same emails to others! Eeek! I hadn’t thought about that. 

    Thank you, Mark. In effect, you’ve written a public service announcement, for some of us (like me). Privacy is important. No one is to blame, except me for not being alert. But that is what consumer advisories are about. I appreciate your post, even if the actual intent were quite different.
    * I didn’t read all 100 comments, but I read the post. That’s a caveat in case my comment repeated others.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/georgelbowen George Lucas Bowen

    More updates on Twitter favorites and actions:  http://bit.ly/pxFbnG

    They updated the @ Username and Activity function to included threaded actions around tweets.  One of these actions is for Favorites.  Similar to the email notification but this looks public as you can view what actions people you follow take.