Favstar, a Twitter engagement–tracking service that’s popular with journalists and comedians, plans to shut down due to changes in Twitter’s API. Tim Haines, founder of Favstar, announced, “Twitter wrote that they’ll be replacing [the API Favstar used] with another method of data access, but have not been forthcoming with the details or pricing. Favstar can’t continue to operate in this environment of uncertainty.” Favstar’s loss is significant because it’s been a crucial tool for a community of jokesters who make up one of the positive, nontoxic corners of Twitter.
In its simplest form, Favstar was a page that ranked your most popular tweets and allowed you see the most favorited tweets from other people’s accounts. It made money by selling “pro” accounts ($30 for 6 months), which made it easier to dig deeper into someone’s best tweets, and gave you the ability to give little “trophies” to other people for a best tweet of the day.
Journalists loved Favstar because it was the best way to quickly see someone’s oldest tweet. And for a smallish group of Twitter jokesters, Favstar had a much more important function than being an analytics service. It was a way to get noticed and build a following for your jokes, and it formed a community of loyal users who called themselves Joke Twitter.
You’ve probably come across Joke Twitter — maybe you follow an account or have seen the community’s jokes retweeted into your feed. It’s usually a joke that is very clearly crafted as a joke — it’ll have a setup and a punchline, and maybe it’ll be in a character or voice. Rather than riffing on the latest thing Trump said or the news, the topics are evergreen. Joke Twitter tends to be fairly PG, often elevated dad jokes and puns.
“On this section of Twitter, there are lots of group chats to either workshop tweets, tweet drop, or just build relationships. My first tweet did very good and that really helped me get a start,” said John Kennedy, who goes by @FrazzleMyGimp. For people like Kennedy, who is a college student in Fargo, North Dakota, Favstar was a way to get noticed and build a large following without being a professional comedian with an existing fanbase or a verified user who benefits from getting boosted in search results and mentions.
“If you see the FavStar link in someone’s bio, you know they are in the Joke Twitter community,” says Chuck Peterson, who tweets as @NewDadNotes. “We help each other with jokes, hold FavStar trophy joke contests to help others just starting out [to] get exposure, and such. It is a literal community.”
Favstar trophy contests happened when someone would suggest a theme, say, “junk drawer,” and a group of around 50 “judges” with pro accounts would give trophies to the ones they thought were funniest. @girl_a_whirl, who runs a weekly contest, said that 150–200 people typically would vie for the trophies each week.
“We joke about getting ‘fake trophies,’ but it still feels good to have a tweet recognized,” @TheBoydP, who claims to have more Favstar trophies than anyone, told BuzzFeed News. He explained that the trophies are an important cog in the Joke Twitter community. “New tweeters also use Favstar trophies to get recognition from larger accounts,” he said. “The tradition is to thank someone for a Favstar trophy by checking out their account and retweeting their best tweets. The whole process of retweeting each other and thanking for trophies leads to making online friends. I’m not sure how that will work now.”
In the evolutionary tree of Twitter, Joke Twitter is a more recent offshoot of Weird Twitter, a group formed by commenters from the message boards of the early internet comedy site Something Awful. Members like @dril, who had a refreshingly absurd and ironic sense of humor, grew to define a lot of Twitter humor. Weird Twitter was edgier and cooler than Joke Twitter, and it had a complicated relationship with Favstar — although they all looked at it, it wasn’t cool to admit it. Many thought putting your Favstar link in your bio was a little too thirsty (even though some of them had done it at one point or another), and that the people who did were often 40-year-old white dads (the least cool people, of course).
From some perspectives, Favstar might seem like Narcissus’s pool, where people lovingly gaze at their own best tweets and hope for Twitter fame. But it also serves a really important function to Twitter — a way to easily find that really funny tweet from over a year ago that you only sort of remember. I personally can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a funny Favstar page and cracked up reading through the best tweets.
It seems ludicrous now, but Twitter didn’t display the number of likes on a tweet for the first few years of its existence. That’s why Favstar was initially created in 2009 — people wanted to see how many likes their tweets were getting! Before Favstar, there was a similar service called Favrd, which shut down in 2009. But a decade later, people are now using a Chrome extension to hide likes and retweet numbers and are questioning whether tracking those numbers creates a false meritocracy.
Despite all its problems with abuse, toxicity, and excessive self-promotion, Twitter has created and popularized its own form of humor and has permanently changed how we enjoy comedy and who we get it from. And Favstar played a big role in that.
It’s unclear how the loss of Favstar will affect Joke Twitter and Twitter in general. Maybe next month, Twitter will roll out a new native feature that lets you view someone’s tweets by best-of (Twitter declined to comment on potential new features or on Favstar’s shutdown). Haines told BuzzFeed News that he'll likely put the domain up for sale and suggest the buyer create a new version that could keep the community going, just not connected to Twitter.
“Joke Twitter started without Favstar, so it will most likely continue just fine without it,” said @fro_vo. “I really hope Twitter offers something to replace it, or gives third party developers access again. [Editor's note: Twitter isn’t blocking access; they’re switching the API in a way that makes it too expensive for Favstar to continue.] I would gladly continue to pay a premium for these kinds of search tools. It adds a layer of enjoyment and control that I will sorely miss when it's gone.”
Peterson, aka @NewDadNotes, added, “I will say this, Joke Twitter wouldn’t exist if not for FavStar, but it can certainly carry on now without FavStar.”