I think Twitter clients should adopt a new practice: show me tweets that people I follow mark as “favorites” in my timeline. Most clients already provide a view that shows me posts from my friends, replies to me, and my direct messages. Favorites are fairly underutilized by Twitter clients. Favrd collects tweets that have been starred by multiple people for some fairly entertaining reading, but mostly I don’t have easy access to posts that my friends mark as favorites, and it’d likely be interesting information.
In fact, I think it could eliminate the need for the practice of “retweeting”. Right now, if a friend of a friend posts something he thinks is worth sharing, my friend might repost that tweet so that his friends (me including) can see it. So if my friend’s friend has posted this:
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
My friend’s retweet, using the most popular syntax, might read:
RT @username: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”
(I don’t particularly like that syntax. I don’t think it’s very intuitive. “RT” is an acronym that’s completely unique to Twitter, so it’s unlikely a new user will figure out that it means “retweet”. And even if they do, it’s not a term that very adequately describes what’s going on, that my friend is quoting one of his friend’s tweets. I’d prefer something like:
“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” - @username
…but I digress.)
Syntax issues aside, retweeting adds lot of clutter to Twitter. Imagine that I follow 20 friends, and many of those follow someone else who I don’t know. If that someone else posts something retweet-worthy, I end up seeing the same quote 15 times on my timeline. And likely not all 15 at once. Maybe 10 within a few minutes of the original, then 4 more an hour later, and maybe the last one three days later when that person gets back from vacation. So I get a quote from someone I don’t follow that keeps echoing across my timeline. Even worse, sometimes people retweet retweets. (None of this is a problem I’m personally having with my friends on Twitter, but it’s not hypothetical.)
It’s not that there isn’t value in retweeting. It’s good to point out that you like what someone else wrote. That’s what social networking is about. But I think there’s a better way to show your appreciation for someone, and I think using Twitter’s preexisting favorite feature is the way to do it. For one, it’s more persistent. You can go to twitter.com/username/favorites and see every public post that user’s ever starred. A retweeted post will disappear off the front page over time with nothing differentiating it from any other post authored by the retweeter, but there’s a record of a favorite.
How could Twitter clients present favorites more… favorably? I picture that Twitterrific would probably throw them inline with the rest of my friends’ posts, but in a different color. Tweetie would probably add a star icon to the left sidebar. Birdfeed would do something subtle, I’m sure. (It’s a playground!) Potentially the clients could scrape some metadata and come up with a clever way to show who marked that tweet as a favorite, or represent visually how many people had marked it. Maybe they’d bump it up top whenever a new friend starred it, or maybe it’d be better to keep it at the timestamp of the original post (something a retweet can’t represent).
So, summary: marking a post as a favorite shows that you like it. Twitter doesn’t support a good way to get that “this is good” message out to your friends. Twitter clients could easily represent this information. Doing this would obviate the need to share that you like a post by retweeting it, which adds noise, too much of which makes it hard to find the good stuff. Marking someting as a favorite also conveys more information than a retweet, because it can be aggregated and found later. Just an idea, but I think a good one.
Update: a short follow-up post, on the potential difficulties of implementing this idea.