The best feature on Twitter is one you probably don't use. I'm talking about favorites, the act of adding a star to a tweet that you like. It's going to be huge.
Twitter added two new features today, an @usernames tab and an activity tab. The @username tab will show you all the activity centered around you — your new followers, which of your tweets were retweeted, your @mentions and which of your tweets were favorited. The activity tab shows the same stuff, but about your friends, which tweets they favorite, who they follow, and more. It also gives you the option to see all their recent favorites.
Both of these features really tend to highlight favorites in a way that we haven't seen before.
Marking favorites is good for Twitter, and good for users. It's good for Twitter because it drives engagement. People love to rate stuff. They love to click on Like or +1 or little hearts and thumbs up signs. And on the user side, who doesn't love validation? And unlike retweeting, when you favourite something, it doesn't show up in your follower's timeline. It's a way of liking or bookmarking something, without having to repeat it.
Favorites is one of Twitter's oldest features. It was really embraced by early adopters, but subsequently fell off. That's probably largely because Twitter used to show favorites more prominently that it does now. Check out minute 15:30 of this video from 2006 where Jack Dorsey shows off the top 10 tweets marked as favorite on Twitter, for example. It was one of the Twitter's more prominent features way back when.
But that was so long ago that Dorsey only had 90 followers. Today he has 1.7 million. And somewhere between less than a hundred and more than a million, Twitter more or less buried its favourite feature, intentionally or not.
Without explicit support from Twitter, third-parties like Favrd, Tweetorites, and most notably Favstar began tracking them. And to some extent a subculture of favoriting grew around these community sites.
But with today's new features, favorites are poised to hit the mainstream. I'd be amazed if Twitter doesn't roll these features from @username and activity into its desktop and mobile apps as well, because they're great for driving engagement; getting you to come back and see how people reacted to your tweet.
Meanwhile, sites like Jason Kottke's Stellar.io are taking favorite-tracking to an obvious next level. Stellar collects not only your favorites on Twitter, but also those on Flickr, Vimeo and YouTube. As soon as you start using Stellar, it becomes obvious that aggregating favorites (or likes) and making them public is a great idea. (Jason, if you are listening, please add support for Instapaper, Pinboard and +1.)
While favorites have been there all along, those little stars have oft-remained unused. By highlighting favorites, Twitter is giving its users an easy way to be more engaged. It's smart. And it's going to be immensely popular.
Welcome to the era of the 'favorite'. You're totally going to love it.