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Managing Twitter Favorites

gold star[This is a guest post by Matt Thomas, a PhD Candidate in American Studies at the University of Iowa. You can follow him on Twitter: @mattthomas.]

If you spend time browsing the Web, you undoubtedly come across stuff you don’t want to or simply can’t deal with right away. It could be an article you want to read, a website you want to explore, an audio clip you want to listen to, a video you want to watch, or a piece of software you want to try out. Tools like Instapaper and Read It Later make it easy to save these things for later. But what do you do when you come across a tweet you don’t want to or simply can’t deal with right away but that you’d like to save for later, either because it’s inherently interesting to you or because it contains a link to something you want to check out when you have more time?.

Twitter offers a built-in solution to this problem: Twitter favorites. [Editor's note: ProfHacker Julie has approximately 775 Twitter favorites, which was a big reason she asked Matt to write this post.]

One of the nice things about Twitter favorites is they allow you mark tweets you’d like to follow-up on without having to leave Twitter. Saving a tweet for later is as easy as starring it. On the Twitter website, for instance, mousing over a tweet brings up a small star in its the top right corner. Clicking this star adds it to your favorites. Clicking it again removes it. Most if not all third-party Twitter apps support favorites as well, though the process of favoriting a tweet differs slightly from app to app.

Here’s a tweet I recently starred:
starred tweet

Twitter makes it so easy to favorite tweets that I’m surprised more people don’t use them. Favorites have to be right up there with text commands in terms of underused Twitter features. Sometimes, before deciding whether to follow someone, I take a look at their favorites to get a sense of the things they’re interested in. A lot of people, I’ve found, haven’t favorited anything. Note: If your Twitter account is public, so are your favorites, and anyone can see what, if anything, you’re favoriting, save for any protected tweets you may have favorited. (Now might be a good time to say that if you’re bothered by my cavalier use of the word “favorite” as a verb, I refer you to “‘Not a Word’ Is Not an Argument”.)

Another part of me understands why some people might not use favorites: Twitter’s implementation of them leaves a lot to be desired. Favorites are hard to view, tough to search, and impossible to organize from within Twitter. In other words, although Twitter makes it easy to favorite tweets, it currently does little to help you process or act on the tweets you’ve favorited (Note: I’m purposefully not dealing here with services like Favstar, which is a great site for tracking what tweets people are favoriting, but not so good for managing your favorites.) Your only option is to painstakingly scroll through your favorites and extract any relevant information from them manually.

Or is it?

Here are two better ways to manage your Twitter favorites: RSS feeds and using Pinboard

RSS Feeds for Favorites

The first is fairly well-known and documented: you can subscribe to your favorites, or anyone else’s for that matter, provided their account is public, using RSS. (Hint: subscribing to other people’s favorites is one way of letting other people do the hard work of filtering Twitter for you. For an introduction to RSS, see Jason’s post from last year.)

Go to your favorites page either by navigating to it on Twitter’s website or by replacing “username” in the following URL with your Twitter handle: http://twitter.com/username/favorites. In the lower right corner you should see a link to an RSS feed of your favorites as in the below image.

favorites feed

Subscribe to this feed in the RSS reader of your choice to see your twenty most-recent favorites. As you star more tweets and refresh the feed, you’ll build up an archive of your favorites that can be easily searched and manipulated. You can, for example, embed your favorites feed on a WordPress.com blog. You can even, provided you’ve got the requisite technical skills, use Anthologize to turn your Twitter favorites into a book. Basically, once you get your favorites out of Twitter and into an RSS feed, the possibilities multiply.

Pinboard

A second, less buzzed-about way to manage your Twitter favorites is to have them pushed to Pinboard.

Pinboard is a tag-based bookmarking service similar to Delicious. Unlike Delicious, however, there’s a small one-time signup fee. (Pinboard provides a helpful comparison of the two services for those thinking about switching.) Ultimately you’ll have to decide for yourself whether you want to try it, but one of the big reasons to switch in my view is that Pinboard lets you automatically add links from Twitter, not to mention Delicious, Instapaper, Read It Later, and Google Reader. Similar to how you can use Gmail to collect email from multiple email addresses so that you only have to check one inbox, you can use Pinboard to collect links from multiple Web services so that instead of checking, say, your Twitter favorites and your unread Instapaper items individually, you need only to check Pinboard. Pinboard’s ability to bring together links from multiple Web services makes it, in my opinion, a powerful tool for managing all the interesting stuff you come across online.

You can set up Pinboard to automatically bookmark links that appear in tweets you’ve favorited. On Pinboard’s settings page under Twitter, enter your Twitter username and select “Add links from Twitter favorites for this username.” Additionally, you can choose whether these bookmarks appear as read or unread. In Pinboard, unread bookmarks are colored orange.

Twitter settings

Now any links that appear in your Twitter favorites will appear in Pinboard automatically with the tag “from twitter_favs.” Another one of the neat things about Pinboard is that it lets you sort bookmarks by source. To see all your Twitter favorites links, for example, append “from:twitter_favs” to the url when you’re logged into Pinboard like so:

From Twitter Favs

What’s great about this is that now you can edit these just like you would any other bookmark. Here, for instance, is the tweet I starred above in Pinboard. Note the “from twitter_favs” tag Pinboard attaches to it by default. Pinboard also, you’ll notice, automatically expands any shortened links.

Tweet in Pinboard

Adding more tags is as simple as clicking edit.

Edit bookmark

In the above image I’ve added the tags “twitter,” “how-to,” and “teaching.” Now whenever I sift through all my bookmarks tagged with “twitter,” “how-to,” or “teaching,” this link will come up. The advantages of such an approach, I hope, are obvious. Instead of having to painstakingly scroll through all my Twitter favorites in order to find this link, I’ve put it, with the help of Pinboard, somewhere where I can find it easily anytime I want to.

* * *

These are two ways of getting your favorites out of Twitter and into someplace where you can actually do something with them. Armed with RSS and/or Pinboard, my hope is that you’ll start using Twitter favorites if don’t already, and if you do, that these tools will help you get more out of them.

Do you use Twitter favorites? If so, how? Do you have any tips and tricks for managing them you’d care to share? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Katherine Anderson.]

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