Twitter is turning favorites into retweets. If you feel like you saw grumblings about that weeks ago, that’s because you probably did. Like most of Twitter’s product experiments, it’s been a slow rollout over the past month.
But recently it has reached a much wider swath of users, many of whom are not too pleased about the changes. Twitter has not officially “launched” this product tweak, which means it’s still in its testing phase, albeit with a much bigger size of guinea pig recipients then before.
And as noted, those guinea pigs are not particularly excited about the change. From tech reporters to founders to anonymous accounts, a chunk of users had no problem venting about the new function:
Twitter filling my feed with stuff I didn't ask for – stuff other people follow and fav. pic.twitter.com/IVOViGF1QW
— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) August 17, 2014
Favorites serve a different function to retweets. Please stop trying to confuse the two.
— Anonymous. ACAB. Black Lives Matter. Anti-Fascist. (@AnonyOps) August 18, 2014
“Favoriting” on Twitter is a bit like a Facebook “like.” It’s a way to acknowledge and bookmark something – a funny joke, a thoughtful line, an article that might have intrigued you but you don’t have time to read.
Retweeting on the other hand is frequently seen as an endorsement of a fellow tweeter’s point of view. That’s not always the case – some use retweeting to confuse or piss off a troll – but for the most part retweeting something has a favorable connotation. You found it interesting enough to share it to your followers.
Although some blame the current favoriting experiment on Twitter not understanding its own product and how people use it, I disagree. Whenever a company introduces new features, there’s always a huge backlash by users. That doesn’t mean the feature won’t later on come to feel natural and even core to the experience. See: Facebook Timeline.
In this case, Twitter might be risking the temporary anger of its users for a more important long-term goal: Growing the content that appears on the site. By turning “passive” favoriting activity into tweets for everyone else, Twitter makes even its less engaged users into content creators.
Of course, such a shift could fundamentally change the way people use the favoriting button – i.e. by not using it at all. At this point, it looks like Twitter is testing to see if that’s the case.