First Look: Interview with Tim Haines, creator of Favit for iPhone

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First Look: Interview with Tim Haines, creator of Favit for iPhone
If you read Twitter for laughs, you might be familiar with Favstar, a website which compiles the funniest Twitter posts each day, as determined by the number of 'stars' (which Twitter calls 'favorites').

The developer behind Favstar, Tim Haines, has released a new iPhone app called Favit [iTunes Link] which is now available in the App Store. I've talked with Tim about Favstar since shortly after it was released and I've been a beta tester for Favit.

If you are familiar with other Twitter clients like Tweetie or Twitterrific, I should tell you right away that Favit is nothing like them. Favit is part of a small group of "helper" apps for Twitter. For example, Birdhouse [iTunes link] is an app meant to help you write (and rewrite) your best/funniest Twitter posts (see previous coverage of Birdhouse). Likewise, Favit is meant to help you find the best/funniest Twitter posts from others.

Favstar, like Favrd, is open to everyone, but tends to cater to a specific group of Twitter users. Favit will appeal to that group, but also has the potential to help you find a host of new and enjoyable folks to follow on Twitter, especially if you're there for the funny.

How It Works

Favit has a very simple user interface. When you launch it, you will see one Twitter post, shown in the image here. If you want to add it to your favorites, tap the star and it will turn yellow. If you want to see another, simply swipe from right to left.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Oh, did you notice anything missing from the Twitter post? It's anonymous, with no indication who wrote it. As the saying goes, it's not a bug, it's a feature.

Those who are familiar with Favstar/Favrd know that sometimes it seems like some people get stars just for scratching their backsides. By reading in Favit, you can make sure that you are responding to what was said rather than who said it. In fact, it can be fun to try to guess who wrote what.

What do you do when you're ready to have the author revealed?Swipe from the top down and up pops the author's name and Twitter avatar, in this case the lovely and talented funnylady @crispycracka. If you pull down far enough, the menu will stay, giving you access to to three action buttons.

Tap the "+" to add or remove this person from your Favstar.fm list (using Twitter's "Lists" feature). This is a handy way of keeping track of people who you star frequently.

Tap the mail icon to email a link to the Twitter post (or "tweet"). Here is where I suspect Favit will gather some complaints: first, the email does not contain the text of the tweet, but just a URL, the author's Twitter name, and a message for the recipient to checkout the tweet. Secondly, Favit uses URLs which point to Favstar.fm, not Twitter.com.

While this makes sense given the developer of Favit is the developer of Favstar, it has the unfortunate side-effect of leading the recipient of the email to see how popular the tweet is when they load the Favstar page. Given the app's emphasis on what is written, it seems odd to have the tweet author's name, but not the tweet itself, included in the email. Personally, I hope this will change in a later version.

Tap the "RT" button to "Re-tweet" (or repost) the message to your own followers using the official Retweet API from Twitter. Retweets are a hotly debated topic within the Twitter community, and Twitter's official implementation of the Retweet API has received mixed reviews. I trust that anyone who uses this feature will understand how it works and decide for themselves whether or not they want to use it.

When you are done, flick your finger across right-to-left again and the next tweet will appear, with the author information hidden again.

Developer Interview

Tim Haines and I "sat down" (via email) to chat a little about Favit:

Q: For those who aren't familiar with Favstar, tell us a little bit about it and why you created it?

A: Favstar.fm shows you which of your tweets are popular among your followers. It allows you to see how many times a tweet has been favorited, and by who. It also makes it easy to discover other people you'd like to follow. As @ev, the CEO of Twitter said, "Wow, there are some seriously funny tweet artists I didn't even know existed over at http://favstar.fm/"

It began as an experiment when I realized there was no way to know which tweets of mine had been favorited the most. Sites existed that did similar things, but they had a different focus with a very small audience, which precluded most people's tweets. As my experimental software became more sophisticated, I started sharing the results, and my friends became interested. As my friends' interest grew, I realized it would make for a compelling website.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself. Do you have Mac/iPhone programming experience or was this your first app?

A: I have a background building web apps, mostly of the boring business breed. I've done a couple of iPhone apps before Favit: a game called BurnBall (featured on TUAW in January) and a quiz game called Kana to help you learn to read Hiragana and Katakana. I've never done any Mac programming, and I probably wouldn't have got into iPhone development without help and inspiration from my buddy David Frampton who made the wildly successful Chopper game.

Q: What made you want to create Favit? What was your inspiration?

A: There's a lot of brilliantly funny tweets on Twitter. But they're a silent whisper going mostly unheard in the roaring noise of most peoples twitter timelines. Favit is designed to remove all the noise and distraction, and show only the best tweets from Twitter. It shows only the text of the tweet, and presents one choice -- favorite it or not. You enjoy and judge the tweet on it's merits -- without even having the distraction of who wrote it exposed to you. After you've read it, you can then choose to reveal the author, and retweet or email the tweet, or add the author to your favstar.fm list.

In addition to enjoying the tweets, I think Favit users will enjoy trying to guess the author of the tweet before they reveal them.

Q: How are the tweets which appear in Favit chosen? Will it ever run out of tweets to show me?

A: The tweet selection process is a closely guarded secret, but I can tell you that it filters out celeb and tech tweets, and shouldn't show you any tweets you've already favorited. There are currently over 30,000 tweets that meet the criteria, and more are added every day. If you get addicted enough to read through the 30,000, leave the app overnight, and it will have more for you in the morning.

Q: Say I'm reading through Favit and I have to exit the app (phone call or just press the Home button). Will Favit remember where I am or start all over again?

A: I'm glad you asked this question. Tweets in Favit aren't shown in chronological order, and once you get into it you'll likely see different tweets [than] your friend who's using Favit.

The tweets shown to you personally are kept in order though. If you quit the app, Favit will remember your position, and will show the same tweet again next time you open it. Tweets you've already read are to the left, tweets you haven't read yet are to the right.

Q: Is Favit "feature complete" or do you have more ideas? Can you give us some ideas of what we might see down the road?

A: Favit is "feature complete" for version 1. The core idea of Favit is very simple - to show you the best tweets from twitter without distractions. The UI has been tuned to that single purpose.

Having said that, I do have several alluring ideas for Favit. For example, some people will want to change the criteria for which tweets get shown - i.e. just show my friends. Other people might like to enter their own tweets to be judged by Favit users.

Q: Anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

A: If you're interested in Favit and favorited tweets, follow @favstar on twitter, and your tweets will show on favstar.fm more quickly.

Cost and Availability

Favit sells for US$2.99, which will no doubt cause some wailing and gnashing of teeth. As Tim said, if houses, food, clothes, and the server for Favstar was free, he'd gladly make the app free as well. Birdhouse sells for $1.99 and "all" it does is let you write and post. A copy of the book Twitter Wit will cost you $9-12 and "all it does" is give you 160 pages of funny tweets. Favit gives you a daily list of the funniest Twitter posts of the day, as judged by a wide range of Twitter users. Next time you're sitting in a waiting room, instead of reading old magazines, fire up Favit and have a laugh or two while you wait.

Someone once said "Twitter is fun, but it's not useful" to which one of the developers of Twitter replied, "Neither is ice cream." Favit is fun and useful (assuming that "makes me smile or laugh" is a "use"). In my book, that makes Favit worth at least one good hot fudge sundae. Find it on the App Store.

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