Why more people are pushing the "favorite" button
What's trending on Twitter? The use of an option known as 'favoriting,' which is becoming a go-to tool for some people who long for a more discreet, less public way to navigate the raucous waters of the popular social network.
The Twitter feature allows users to mark with a star icon tweets they find amusing or useful. Doing so both bookmarks the tweet and alerts its creator that they appreciate the sentiment without republishing it in their own streams.
This May, Twitter users hit the favorite button on tweets 1.6 billion times—four times more than they did in May 2012, according to Topsy, a data-analytics company that is a partner to Twitter, Inc., which now has 200 million monthly active users.
The rise in 'favoriting'—or starring, as it's also known—is a safer way to engage with others on the network. Rather than retweeting risky comments or observations, users can more quietly add their approval or note their amusement by favoriting.
Choire Sicha, a writer and co-founder of the blog The Awl, says a "lack of impulse control" got him in trouble a few times on Twitter. Now he relies heavily on favoriting as a means to let him more carefully communicate with his Twitter network of friends and strangers.
In a recent 24-hour period, he tweeted, retweeted or replied to other users' tweets 47 times. During the same period, he favorited tweets 150 times. He favorites tweets when they make him laugh. "I also use it to back one side in a fight, when two people are going at it and I don't want to get involved," he says. When a tweet annoys him, he does what he calls "hate-favoriting," a sort of sarcastic use of the favorite option. "When someone is totally awful, hitting 'favorite' is the most perverse thing you can do."
John Manoogian III, the founder of 140 Proof, a social-advertising company in San Francisco, has been using Twitter since 2006, the year it launched. He considers favoriting the most valuable Twitter currency. Mr. Manoogian says that a tweet with many favorites often suggests that it has caused people to laugh spontaneously—and to quickly hit the star icon as a wink, a hat-tip, a show of appreciation. "Favorites are like a secret discovery mechanism to find who is the funniest," he says.
On Twitter's website or its smartphone apps, user profiles include a favorites tab that reveals a list of the user's favorite tweets. But it takes several clicks to land on that list, and in the twitterverse, that is a lot of effort.
Enter Favstar, a website dedicated to ranking tweets and tweeters by the favorites they generate. Founded in 2009 by Tim Haines, Favstar has 3 million monthly users. Mr. Haines, an engineer, says he created the site because he realized that the favorite was an important feedback signal that could help him get a sense of what his Twitter followers were interested in reading in his feed.
Favstar has morphed into a tool that helps people find writers and comedians, as well as a community for writers and comedians to meet online. It now offers pro accounts. For $29.99 for six months, premium subscribers can nominate tweets for the Tweet of the Day award and connect with other pro users.
Josh Hara, an associate creative director for social content at a marketing firm in Columbus, Ohio, joined Twitter in 2009. He built a following of nearly 59,000 by surfing Favstar and learning how to craft a joke in 140 characters or less. He still judges his own humor based on favorites. "If I don't get more than 10 faves in first three minutes after tweeting something, I'll probably delete it," he says.
Heather Denkmire, 43, became active on Favstar a few years ago. She says she met talented writers through the site, but became obsessed with monitoring how many favorites her tweets were generating. Ms. Denkmire, who lives in Portland, Maine, says she pays no attention to how many people are starring her tweets. "It can have a high-school popularity-contest vibe," she says.
The Wall Street Journal, Life & Cultur,July 24,2013, 7:33 p.m ET By KATHERINE ROSMAN
Write to Katherine Rosman at firstname.lastname@example.org