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://steamcatapult.com/ Dave Pinsen

    Maybe Twitter should have something like the earthworm in Millipede, where you shoot it and the action slows down for a few seconds, giving you a chance to stay alive and catch up.

  • http://www.eqentia.com William Mougayar

    Favoriting on Twitter to read later is a perfect application of course. We have a great feature on Eqentia where we will automatically route *favorite* articles and show them to you- magazine style on your Personal Stream (a read it later- like destination). It can be public or private.

    Furthermore, you can email any article to a secret email address and they will collect in the same space. And you can also sync your Google Reader starred and folders to the same space.

    Mark- you should give it a shot, and let me know what you think. All about it here http://www.eqentia.com/eqentia-products/personal-stream/. It’s InstaPaper++ on steroids.

  • http://www.eqentia.com William Mougayar

    There’s another innovative use of Twitter Favorites for a business. We just started using it on the company account @eqentia:twitter to save the Twitter Love we get about Eqentia, and we’ve linked that URL to our Footer on all webpages, called Praise http://twitter.com/#!/Eqentia/favorites 

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks. My instinct tells me I’m right, too. Which is why I wrote it ;-)

  • http://www.gordonbowman.com Gordon Bowman

    Same here. And you should try the Embedly Chrome extension for having Instapaper straight from Twitter: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/ljpehmgoanlmeiiodaincleeiaknmfol

  • http://twitter.com/jeetensheth Jeeten Sheth

    Thats what I always use it for and I agree that it should be renamed. Infact.. use facebook like to do that too.. in addition.. I was thinking of a read it later for facebook too and asked this on Quora..
    http://www.quora.com/What-do-you-think-of-the-idea-of-bookmarking-a-post-or-a-link-in-your-Facebook-wall-feed

  • http://travisestell.com/ Travis

    Google Reader has three separate actions: share, star, and like.  I use them all for a distinct purpose: “share” is for sharing an item with friends; “star” is for saving something to read later; and “like” is for showing that I like an item but don’t necessarily want to forward it on to friends.  While I enjoy having all three options, I know it confuses some people.

    What’s confusing about Twitter’s “favorite” feature is that they have combined a star icon with the word “favorite”.  To me, those are two separate functions: star/save and favorite/like.

    In conclusion: If Twitter separated the concepts of “save” and “favorite”, I would be happy and use them for two different purposes.  However, it may end up confusing the majority of users, so it may not be worth it from Twitter’s perspective.

  • http://www.janereynolds.co.uk Jane

    As you say, ‘Favorite’ isn’t usually the reason for saving a tweet. It’s because you ‘like’ it or want to read it later. I would like a ‘Save for later’ box (without having to go to yet-another app for it), + a ‘Tweets I like’ box, which people can click on to be able see tweets which have particularly amused/interested another user.

  • http://twitter.com/bernardlunn Bernard Lunn

    Mark, I responded on Twitter but this is a case where 140 characters is not enough. I did a similar thought process and small survey a few months ago. I had been inspired by the Scoble Faves (the entrepreneur from Finland) to create a filter using Favorites. This was for a publishing platform I am building. You can see some test results on http://www.capitalmarkets.com/ 

    The River Of News column is all Tweets from folks on my List (and on sub-lists by topic category). To filter that further we create the Experts column and only included Tweets that the people we followed had Favorited.

    Long story short….we found it was still too noisy, spoke to a number of the people we followed and found – as you did – that they used Favorites mostly as a read-later note, not a real alert to the world that “I think this great”. So we decided to only publish/follow the Favorites of a much smaller sub-section of our lists of people who we had spoken to who were CONSCIOUS that whatever they Favorited would go on the front page of CapitalMarkets.com. We call them “conscious editors”. The cost to them is simply a moment’s thought that when they Favorite they are saying to the world “I think this is great” ie that they are putting their personal brand behind the action. This was easy for them as they were using Gmail or Instapaper or Evernotes as their “read it later” file.

  • http://twitter.com/bernardlunn Bernard Lunn

    Good point. I have stopped using Like for that reason, it implies an endorsement that I have not consciously given.

  • http://twitter.com/bernardlunn Bernard Lunn

    My small sample size research came to same conclusion as Mark. My personal flow is Favorite = Read It Later. Once I have read it if i is still interesting I email it to my Evernote account where I can add other notes around that subject. If Twitter enabled a “Later” button it would kill Instapaper? I use Evernote as an aggregator, otherwise my interest exhaust is scattered across multiple silos. Most of that exhaust is really temporary, of no long term interest.

  • Butler Mc

    I use Summify. It does a great job of sorting out the most read tweets amongst those I follow.

  • mv tweets

    We favorite the tweets that best exemplify the types of interactions, accomplishments, and conversions that we are seeking to achieve. For others, they serve as a poignant snapshot of our twitter feed; for us, they serve as inspiration.

  • http://twitter.com/talgurevich Tal Gurevich

    Mark,
    People often puzzle about defining “what Twitter is”. I think i recall Noah Glass (for sure) and Ev or Jack Dorsey (not sure) say they are not even scratching the surface on that one. Supposedly, once they reach that, Twitter would begin the ‘promised journey to the top’. 

    I say: they should scratch their head, and start working, because the stuff you wrote up there is it. I’ve been puzzling over this since i began using twitter. 

    You see: you think you are talking about a “feature”; in fact you are speaking of what the meaning of twitter and it’s main use is/will be – Our daily digest. Twitter is a news stream, and the cleverest on at that. It is defined by the benefit it gives and the way it is used.  At the end, if they stick to it, they often find themselves overwhelmed with the ‘urge to read’… Later. Everything they see, if they customize their feeds regularly. That is unless they give up and become that silent, innactive 80% of the network before they reach that point (but that’s a side issue). the evolution of the twitter user, to it’s end, takes him there. 

    RSS blew it, google reader did much of the same, and twitter gave us our “custom, opt in, reading list” where we sign on (through mobile, or lunch browsing to twitter.com) and find things to read later. 

    BTW – if you want proof of this let me offer you a small exercise: use read it later (yay) or instapaper (boo). Set it up on your twitter in your iphone, and read your stuff later on your ipad or browser. See what it does to your twitter experience. 

    It is it. 

    Disclosure, i do not work for twitter or read it later. ;)

    -Tal

  • http://twitter.com/ahoova Ahuvah Berger

    I use the favorite feature for two reasons – one to save tweets/links to be viewed at a later date and i also favorite tweets that i do not want to get lost w/in the twitter world (and it is connected to my RSS reader) . I “un-favorite” a tweet if it was saved for a later time and viewed. The funny/amusing tweets stay favorited. 

  • Philip Inghelbrecht

    What a simple, yet powerful study.  Twitter already seems to integrate Instapaper in the their mobile app (iPhone.  Maybe a prelude to what’s following on the web? 

  • http://twitter.com/pragmatic_rebel Yogesh Ramesh Sharma

    Nice post & good to have this conversation about Twitter – I guess we users also need Twitter to get better.

    As you pointed out, I save tweets mostly for reading later & also to have some interesting points saved to ponder through at a later point of time.

    I’ve one more reason (or I think so..): I check tweets on my iPhone a lot & sometimes, I don’t wanna read a large blog or analysis on the little screen so I favorite it to read it on tablet or laptop (perhaps, this is a different category of read-later use case).

  • http://www.ipatient.com Dan Munro

    Clearly the @MSuster as Product Manager with this one – but couldn’t agree more.  We definitely need a “bookmark” feature that’s distinctly different from any kind of “top” tweet or “like” tweet.  For me – it’s 100% bookmarking.  As a bookmark – I can also say that a very high % (probably 100% for me) include a shortened link – so capturing and/or pushing just those links has merit too (at least for me).  Some of these add-on features could logically support a low-cost subscription model – that I know I would pay for – but is that blasphemous because it’s twitter?

  • http://twitter.com/jmuttram Jim Muttram

    I alway use the “favorite” feature just as you do.

  • http://twitter.com/qkarmark qkarmark

    thx for the tip, Richard … i’ve just started using instapaper now! Before this, I’d generally use Delicious or Evernote (preferred)

  • http://profiles.google.com/camjackson89 Cameron Jackson

    I actually never Twitters favouriting feature, I use Read It Later instead, and save the actual link, rather than the tweet.
    From my laptop this means right clicking on the link and saving to RIL (via a Chrome extension). From my Android this means opening up the link in the browser, Menu->Share->Add to RIL. Not really happy with my Android process, but unfortunately from TweetDeck you can’t long press on the link to share it, so I have to open it up and do so from the browser instead.

  • http://www.nosnivelling.com daveschappell

    this is a coincidence, but just yesterday i tweeted and asked people if there were an easy way to Instapaper tweets that I want to read later, rather than using the Favorite button (yes, I use Favorite as a way to store stuff for later… why in the heck would i want to ‘favorite’ a tweet?!?).  I totally agree that they should enable both… if they could only have one, I’d opt for the ‘save for later/bookmark’ functionality.

  • http://about.me/mikeschinkel MikeSchinkel

    One data point: I’ve never used favorites for a “read later” list because I always felt that it would be inappropriate, especially when my favorite list is public. When I want to read it later I email a link to myself but yes I would love a “Read Later” feature on Twitter.

  • http://aimee.mychores.co.uk aimee

    I also use favourites to mark them to follow up on later. I’m really disappointed that twitter have now removed favourite tweets from our home pages. It was very useful to have the latest one there to remind me. Now i have to go looking via my profile. #twitterfail

  • http://zagorath.wordpress.com Zagorath

    I actually use favourites on Twitter as a way of saying, wow, that’s cool! Many times it’ll be some quote or interesting thought, and not necessarily even have a link for me to want to read later.

  • Anonymous

    Mark,

    I had the same reaction when this feature launched, and I immediately changed my behavior – stopped favoriting when I didn’t real mean it and emailed for later reading instead.

    This got me thinking, too, that there is a need for different responses to tweets. I think a tag system may work well, so that you could organize tweets for later consumption. Often, interacting with Twitter is simple and totally spontaneous; but there are those tweets that you want to read or react to later, or set aside in a pile with some level of organization.

    Clearly, more than just retweet is needed. Ironically, favorite seems like the least useful of the next round of options (to me, anyway). Thanks for getting the conversation going on this topic.

    Tom

  • Anonymous

    I use Twitter faves to save things for reading later.  I read them later on the browser, but I also use the iPad app news.me to read them later where it automatically reads them into its Read Later screen.  Yes I’m an investor in bit.ly so yeah I’m biased, but I thought I’d mention it since it is a nice implementation.

  • http://twitter.com/arthurmonnet Arthur Monnet

    You should try @faveous:twitter  to gather all your favorites from Twitter, Google Reader, Youtube, Facebook, Tumblr.. etc. I made this to use twitter favorites as a better reading list when you can share them, classify (tag), edit, search.. 

  • http://researchpaperwriter.net/ research paper

     well… nice to know that peopl really think like that) cause i do and i cant explain my point of view!

  • http://singles-exchange.com Valery

    well, I really like twitter because you can be in constant communication with your group, singer, favorites enterprise and so on. But like the writer said, “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.” Fortunately it was in the past now we have RT  tool.A problem that sometime happens to me is that I don’t have enough space to write what I am doing.

  • http://jeffjudge.com Jeff Judge

    I use it to represent liking something. Awhile ago I suggested via Twitter that they add the ability to mark something as liked and people immediately responded that is what favorite should be used for. Prior to that point, I always held my use of favorite back for the stuff I seriously enjoyed – like people having babies, getting married, starting a company, etc. I started using favorites to like things after that. I think if I retweeted everything I liked people wouldn’t unfollow me!

    I think a parallel is Google Reader, which has star, like and share functions. I use star to circle back and read something later, like as something I enjoyed reading, and share for times I want it to post over to other’s Google Reader stream.

  • http://jeffjudge.com Jeff Judge

    That’s funny – Google Reader is how I found and read this post. I don’t think I even follow you on Twitter since you tweet so much. 

  • http://termpaperwriter.org/research_paper custom research papers

    Interesting thoughts. there is something to ponder.

  • http://twitter.com/Jose_GD José González DAmico

    You can use Read It Later. In my Android Phone I can send it to RIL from any app that has a Share menu

  • http://twitter.com/Jose_GD José González DAmico

    I started using Twitter favorites to “like” tweets. Later I used them to mark tweets with links I found interesting and had not time to see at the moment. But then I had two types of favorites: tweets I liked and tweets with links I wanted to read later (and don’t know if I would like them). Since I found Read It Later, I use this wonderful service to mark links for future reading and favorites in Twitter  for “likes”. In my Android phone, using RIL is almost straightforward: swipe, Share menu, Add to Read It Later.

  • http://twitter.com/SeanSlater Sean Slater

     Slightly off-topic, but Feedera is a great for keeping up with your Twitter stream.. I’ve been using it for 6+ months or so and can’t imagine my Twitter-world without it.

    http://feedera.com

  • http://www.monkeypop.com/ Negronjeremy

    I run into a lot reading my twitter feed on the go. Thank you for written this post.

  • http://www.startupboyo.com/ RichardF

    Not sure that RIL supports Kindle. Use instapaper with my Kindle a lot

  • http://www.smallbusinessbible.org Small Business

    Long Live Twitter & it’s Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeets!

  • http://twitter.com/joffaboy joffaboy

    One way to revive the value of favourites in Twitter (and so far, also YouTube, Vimeo and Flickr) is to sign up to http://stellar.io (in beta).

    When you get an invite, you can join in & see your favourites and follow other Stellar member favourites – there are some very interesting people already using Stellar.

  • Projectfitamerica

    new to twitter…used to pick a ‘favorite’ and leave it posted to my wall for the day….favorite of the day…now that feature wall post is gone so to us ‘favorite’ means I giving a personal shout to the tweeter and not the tweeting community as a whole.  We use twitter for professional outreach and we miss the wall post of a favorite for the day.  In the fast paced steam of professional connections…most of our favorites are the quotes that just seem like a “remember why we do this all folks” moment!

  • http://ClinicalPosters.com ClinicalPosters

    My site has a streaming Twitter widget that displays Favorite tweets. (So Favorites are really favorites.)

  • Trina

    When on my computer, I have used favorites as a “save for later” and for a favorite quote.  Like you, while on my IPhone, I just send the link to myself for a later read.  This is blog is rather timely as I went through my “favorites” last night and weeded out a bunch of ones I had saved for later.  I have gone beyond the saving for later because I now use Diigo to bookmark tweets for later reads.

  • http://twitter.com/cgranier Carlos Granier

    I also use Twitter favorites as a reading list. I’ve taken this a step further using a website called ifttt.com (If This Then That) to create an agent that checks my Twitter favorites lists and adds new faves to my Instapaper account.

  • http://twitter.com/SkirtsMcGee Angie

    I use as a marker to “read it later.” I typically read my timeline on my mobile phone, but like to click links to articles and read on my PC.

  • http://brizzel7.tumblr.com jkeilitz

    Very good article and discussion. I use favourites in the sense of ‘keep it’, ‘like it’ and ‘read it later’. I would like to extract them from twitter as there is the 3200 tweet limit on twitter and I want them to be taken out of the real time stream and put aside as real copies with absolute time stamp. I might want to import the ones tagged in the sense of ‘keep it’ / ‘like it’ into a blog for documentation and not only point to the original on twitter.
    When thinking about it it is a matter of what belongs to twitter and what does not. ‘like it’ is about giving feedback to someone, ‘keep it’ is about taking something out of the stream and make it persistent and ‘read it later’ is about marking something and make a decision later. I think twitter decided to understand favourites in the sense of ‘like it’. Both ‘like it’ and ‘read it later’ do not require to take the fish out of the water, just tag them and let them swim but ‘keep it’ might need something else.
    So far I do not know an easy way to ‘copy and send a tweet somewhere’. BlackBird is cumbersome.
    I wasn’t aware of tools like readitlater or Instapaper. Thnx for the hints here.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Wait you mentioned Instapaper later but you use email?

    “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.”

    If you love Apple products (and I know you do) pick up Instapaper, and grab that bookmarklet. It’ll fire off links from any browser you happen to be at to your instapaper app for batch reading (even when you’re offline as long as you remember to sync – wish that happened while I slept).

    Absolutely love the app, and it allows me to keep my email inbox clearer and focused towards communication instead of a reminder.

  • Robert Thuston

    “when you have something on your mind all other non-related content becomes noise”.  well said.  

  • Robert Clay

    I use favorites extensively, mainly when someone tweets the equivalent of a testimonial. It is a way to find them again, and provides proof of excellence for those who need to see it. I save links to read later using Instapaper.

  • http://www.web-self-service.com Wesley Wise

    I guess, when it comes to Twitter, you have no choice but to keep up with the rapidity that has become its nature.