First Click: Twitter's battle between hearts and stars is a battle for hearts and minds

July 29th, 2015


The battle between stars and hearts is a struggle that will define our expression of public digital affection in the 21st century.

Apple launched the first salvo by giving Music listeners the ability to rate tracks with both stars and hearts leaving us struggling to define our feelings with such pictographic exactness. But Twitter’s taking it further by quietly replacing stars with hearts in a battle royal where only one favorite icon can survive.

Thing is, stars and hearts are not synonymous. To star something is to measure its quality. To heart something is to emote it. These are lessons learned long ago in grade school: gold stars were reserved for a 100 percent on a math test or when Mario defeated Macho Grubba, hearts were doled out like Valentines by a horny Periscope user. To change the icon would change the very meaning of a favorited tweet.

Twitter hearts vs stars

My colleague Micah Singleton was recently converted to hearts on Twitter, yet I’m still seeing stars. This is an outrageous injustice. If Twitter knew its users it would know that I should be the heart and Micah the star.

The ending of Rocky makes me cry every single time and I can recommend The Notebook without any sense of irony. Micah is a man of uncompromising luxury. He’s the guy that rented a Vegas suite for one night at CES this year because he needed a suitable place to hang his aviator scarf. I’m the heart and he’s the star — this couldn’t be more obvious.

Despite the slight, I fully agree with Twitter investor Chris Sacca who argued to replace everyone's starred favorites with hearts last month:

"A very high bar is set by using the word 'Favorite' on Twitter. Favorite is a superlative. It implies a ranking. In the early days of Twitter many of us interpreted the word literally and only keep a few Tweets in our favorites that were truly, well, our favorites. Today, many of my friends and I use the star as a 'Like' button equivalent or even a simple acknowledgement that we saw a Tweet. Whereas other people use favorites as bookmarks. However, the majority of users are baffled by favorites and they don’t end up using the star much, if at all."

There's no such confusion at Coachella, where fans regularly pinch their hands into the shape of a heart to show DJs exactly how they feel. Have you ever seen someone trying to convulse their hands into a star? No, because that would be stupid, even for Burning Man.

Take emoji as another example. An April 2015 study published by the makers of the SwiftKey keyboard app showed that hearts are used far more often than stars. Hearts are the third most popular category after happy and sad faces. Meanwhile stars peaked at a lowly 26th, just ahead of categories titled "Transport," "Bird," and "Farm Animals."

In Gmail, gold stars are useful as a means of private prioritization. But Twitter is a public forum where goons are quick to call you a "fucking moron" in less time than it takes to read a headline. Hearts mean you like me. Right now, you like me, and Twitter could certainly use more of that.

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Star of the day