The Twitter fav has quickly become a valuable form of social currency, but like anything else on the big, dumb, Internet, its origins and meanings are shrouded in mystery. Back in 2011, tech blogs were explaining "how to utilize the 'favorite' button on Twitter." Now, the fav is used to bookmark, shade, and flirt, among other things. 

Origin Story

Marketplace editor Margarita Noriega, who's faved over 59,200 tweets, says favs "really began as a method of communicating through FavStar.fm, which appears to have been established in 2009." She continues,

Back in the day, you would fav because a reply was considered talking directly to a person in the way a phone call means you expect someone to pick up the phone. Favs were like texting someone, though — you didn't necessarily expect an immediate (or any) response, but it was likely that the person got your text in the same way that someone got your fav. In other words, it was the original subtweet.

Since then, faving has evolved "like Pokemon," Noriega says. We agree. People fav for just about any reason now, so we've helpfully organized the different kinds of favs into two groups: emotional and logical. 

Emotional Faving 

Teens, we've found, fav almost solely on emotion. Amanda Bigi, a high school senior in Pittsburgh, told The Wire, "The main reason I favorite things is to get a boy's attention. He can see what I favorite so I do it to let him know my feelings. Also, I'll do it to flirt with boys." She's not alone — supposedly mature adults have admitted to being wanton flirt favers (ahem, our colleague David Sims). Brendan O'Connor documented the flirt fav phenomenon for the Daily Dot back in March. 

Conversely, hate-faving is now a common occurrence. The Awl founder Choire Sicha told The Wall Street Journal last year, "When someone is totally awful, hitting 'favorite' is the most perverse thing you can do." Wired's Mat Honan tells The Wire sometimes he favs just to say, "fuck you." 

And Noriega identifies the worst way we've found to manipulate our relationships using favs: the stalking fav. "NOTHING is worse than the stalking fav — the fav that someone does to let you know they see your activity and MAYBE you haven't replied to their email, or called them back, or maybe you hate them," she says. 

Bottom line, there's definitely a type of person who favs with her heart, for good or evil. Honan says, "I favorite things to feel less alone, and so that you'll feel less alone too." He's faved 25,200 tweets. 

Logical Faving

This is faving to appease your boss. It's boring. The most common logical fav is the bookmark fav, which saves the tweet (or the link within) for later. Our colleague Philip Bump is famous for the bookmark fav, but plenty of other "media professionals" do this, too. Honan bookmarks but notes that the whole process is futile: "I never, ever see [those tweets] again." Other iterations of the logical fav:

  • the acknowledgment fav: "Alright, I got it, you're boring me, here's a fav."
  • the just-short-of-a-retweet fav: "I am LOLing, but not LMAOing."
  • the obligation fav: "You are my boss, so I should fav this."

Even teens are prone to logical faving. Amanda's friend Maria Coppola tells The Wire, "If I was mentioned in a tweet, sometimes I favorite the tweet to acknowledge the person, and then I won't tweet back." 

All of this begs the question — have we reached Peak Fav? Favs can mean so many things now that at some point, they'll mean nothing. (Of course, nothing on the Internet means anything, anyway.) Noriega notes, "favs have become so valuable in the Twitter economy that people have started to reject them. I understand where they are coming from — sometimes it gets too intense."

Then there are the people who eschew discussions like these altogether. Vox.com co-founder Matt Yglesias tells The Wire, "Honestly, I think I only ever fav by mistake."

Update: You can read more of Honan's thoughts on favs and their origins here. 

Photo by baranq via Shutterstock.