Twitter activity stream and the undetermined semantics of “favorite”

Twitter is adding “Activity stream”. What we can see in the screenshots is followings, retweets and favorites.

Retweets are also visible in the current stream. The only difference is that now you see how many people have retweeted it. Which you could do by clicking on the tweet previously.

Followings is something new – previously you didn’t know when others started following someone. Because you didn’t care, actually. The facebook “became friend with” can’t be directly moved to twitter because people you follow on twitter are not your friends and the people they follow are not of any interest to you. Well, they may be of interest, but that is supposedly handled by “Who to follow”.

Favorites – this is a feature with undetermined semantics. By idea it should mean “things I like and want to refer to later”, but people have been using them a lot as a “read it later” feature, especially when reading their stream from a mobile device. Another thing about favorites is – important tweets. I have a hosting company website and an analytics framework in my favourites. Not because I particularly like these, but because they might be useful in the future when I look for hosting or analytics. So the semantics of the “favorite” action is unclear and differs for different users. And because of that some users favorite a lot more than others. That said, showing favorites in the stream may not be very sensible. A couple of side-effects:

  • you will see links that are not particularly interesting, but that people have favorited because they’d like to check them out later when they are on their PC;
  • the stream may be dominated by a few users that use the feature extensively;
  • people might reconsider what to favorite when they know others are watching.

It seems to me that twitter are trying to enforce a “like” semantics on the “favorite” button – it will be shown in an aggregated stream, and it means you like something but don’t necessarily want others to see it in their regular stream. There is very little difference from the “retweet” button, and that makes it even more confusing.

But what’s the ultimate idea of the activity tab – to show you just the most interesting stuff and to filter out the noise. But my opinion is that it won’t succeed – it will add even more noise and useless information, like who are others following and their undetermined use of the “favorite” feature.

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  1. […] a list of favorites and mostly a “Read it later” list. But after twitter introduced some changes it evolved into something else. The apparently innate need for “liking” things on the […]

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