The best feature on Twitter is one you probably don't use. I'm talking about Favoriting, 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 favoriting in a way that we haven't seen before. Here's why you're going to love it.
Favoriting 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 unlike retweeting, when you favorite 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. And for you, it's great for getting you to come back and see how people reacted to your tweet. Who doesn't love validation?
Favoriting 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 favorite tweets 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 favorite 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.
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, MLKSHK, 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.
You can keep up with Mat Honan, the author of this post, on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.