Twitter Plans to Mangle ReTweets #SaveReTweets





If you’ve read this blog, you know that ReTweets are one of my favorite topics. For a ton of reasons I think that they’re not only one of the most important developments to come from Twitter, but from social media in general.

How ReTweets Work Now

As you probably know, ReTweets were designed by the community, for the community, and currently look like this:

RT: @username Really Awesome Tweet

Granted, the “RT @username” prefix takes up some space, but that minor annoyance is more than made up for by the benefit users get from a Tweet clearly labeled as being ReTweeted from @username originally. When you see a ReTweet in your timeline it has the avatar of the person who did the ReTweeting, so you know who spread it to you and from whom they got it.

ReTweeters could add their own commentary (and lend social proof with their name and avatar), Twitter client developers could add one-click ReTweet functions and analysts (like me and Microsoft) could gather ReTweets and study them.

How Twitter Aims to Break ReTweets

In a stunningly disappointing move, Twitter has threatened to completely eviscerate most of the value out of ReTweets by “formalizing” a feeble version of a format that was already well understood and functional for all users involved.

Twitter plans to add a button to the Twitter web client that says “Retweet” that will allow you to send the same exact Tweet, with no editing, to your followers. Your followers will see the original poster’s avatar and name, even if they’re not following them, and the only indication they’ll see that it is a ReTweet will be a small line of light gray text underneath it.

I follow people because I trust and enjoy their point of view, I don’t nessecarily trust the POV of people I don’t follow, so using the original poster’s picture and name in my timeline destroys any social proof the ReTweeter may have lent the Tweet.

Most active Twitter users use third party desktop and mobile clients to Tweet, and there is no way of telling how those developers will indicate ReTweets in this new format just yet. The Tweets will not contain the “RT @username” prefix. There will no longer be a commonly understood format. Scanning my friend’s timeline is how I use Twitter, and I suspect how many of you do too. The new ReTweet format will make that much harder.

If more than one of my followers ReTweet the same Tweet, the screenshots seem to indicate that the ReTweet won’t appear more than once in my timline, it will simply be updated to say “ReTweeted by @user1 and @user2…” The problem here is that if @user1 ReTweets at 1pm and @user2 does it at 2pm, that Tweet will have been buried in my timeline and I won’t see it again.

The new version of ReTweets will come with a few new API calls. They’re calling your friend’s timeline by a new name so they can deprecate the old one (which worked fine). They’re going to allow you to see ReTweets you’ve posted (not sure why), and ReTweets your followers have posted (which you could already do). The only kind of cool API call is the one that will allow you to see the 20 most recent updates that are ReTweets of your Tweets; problem is, you can only get yours. You can’t see the most recent ReTweets of other people’s content, and you can’t check for ReTweets of a specific Tweet.

If I didn’t know better, this would make me think the team who designed this didn’t really understand how ReTweeting works. (Update: it turns out the project lead, @Zhanna, has only retweeted and using a non-standard version of the less popular “via” syntax) The new format will make them harder to use, more confusing, less valuable and kill the ReTweet.

How ReTweets Should be Adopted

The idea of a button, next to the reply button, is great; that absolutely should be implemented. But clicking that button should do the same thing that TweetDeck does: copy the Tweet into the text area, add “RT @username” and let me edit before sending.

An API call should be added so that 3rd party clients could signal to Twitter that a Tweet is a ReTweet of a specific update. The new API calls are otherwise fine, but there should also be a call to get all ReTweets of a specific Tweet.

My advice? Use the HashTag: #SaveReTweets to start making some noise about this, and keep using the old “RT @username” format.

If you liked this post, don't forget to subscribe to my RSS feed or my email newsletter so you never miss the science.

{ 74 comments }

Alif Rachmawadi August 27, 2009 at 7:32 pm

I think it's another form of friendfeed 'like'. If they do it properly, it will be success. But, actually, I prefer old format of 'RT @'.

Ari Herzog August 27, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Comparable to the Great Woods Performing Arts Center now known as Comcast Center, I call it Great Woods. RTs will live on.

Kristen August 28, 2009 at 3:47 am

So, a person who’s only got 550 tweets, only tweets maybe three times a day (usually in direct response to someone else), and uses the “via” method of RT gets the lead on a major Twitter RT project? Where do I sign up for a job with Twitter?!

sean August 28, 2009 at 4:07 am

Very nice and cutting edge stuff here. Thank you for the info.

ernmander August 28, 2009 at 12:17 am

I have for a long time now said publicly that Twitter needs to concentrate on making the platform more stable.

All this messing around and prettying up the site is taking away from it's functionality. After all if it works we will use it. They took away the ability to see all @replies, if they take the ability to RT away will that be a step to far for some?

johnnyeabod August 28, 2009 at 4:25 am

This is the same reason that American car companies fail at improving their best-selling models.

American car company: What is the feature that people really like about this model? OK, well let's “improve” on that feature. (Until it no longer contains whatever it is they like about it.)

Japanese car company: What is the feature that people really like about this model? OK, let's leave that part alone, because people obviously like it and find something else to improve upon.

Amy~AllAboutEnergy August 28, 2009 at 10:48 am

@Zhanna had to be given something to do. So they gave her something to fix that wasn’t broken, figuring it would keep her busy.

And she broke it. :-(

Eline Walda August 28, 2009 at 3:05 pm

I don't think I will lie awake over this. Nevertheless, if it's true, then it would seem that Twitter doesn't understand a thing about Twitter…

Actually, I seldom RT without editing. I often add a comment of my own. I plan to keep on doing this, no matter what Twitter prescribes :-) A RT from someone I don't know, without the clearly visible credentials of a person I do follow, is meaningless.

MikeHaydon September 4, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Twitter should be spending its time on fixing things that are broken, like the amount of spam they spend their resources responding to rather than being proactive. It's a simple code fix to allow “one click” RTs in the form we know, use and love (I often comment on when I RT), as opposed to the more difficult task of changing the fabric of the site to do RTs the way they are proposing.

I'm not going to stop RTing the way I currently do. I hardly ever use the site anyway, Tweetdeck is much more efficient for me. With 22k followers, there's no way I can see even a fraction of my followers' tweets. I have a group of around 150 people I've built up a trust for and I listen to them. They often RT things that twitterers I don't know have said, which I won't see under the proposed system.

Twitter – keep the format the same. It works a lot better than what you propose will. Add a button to improve user experience, but don't mangle something that makes your site unique.

MikeHaydon September 4, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Good analogy! If only more companies followed the Japanese car company model

MikeHaydon September 4, 2009 at 9:25 pm

What are you saying? You DON'T like the fail whale? lol

MikeHaydon September 4, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Solution – Twitter should focus more on targeting the problem (spam) rather than an outlet for the problem (RTs). Spammers will always find a way to spam. Making a concerted effort to combat spam is one of the main reasons Facebook has Myspace in a stranglehold, particularly among the non-teen demographic.

Name September 21, 2009 at 8:46 pm

The fact that Twitter didn't have a formal way to retweet has always been lame. But I agree with Dan that to completely change the format now that the community has developed it's own standard in an open source way is even more lame.

I haven't heard anything to the contrary, but what is to stop us from doing it the way we've been doing it; either via another app or copy and pasting the tweet and adding “RT @username” and comments?

Eventually the brass may get the idea.

Tom September 28, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Can't you just continue using the old format if you want?

Ileane Smith October 19, 2009 at 9:45 am

This artilce was posted 2 months ago, and by now I hope Twitter has changed their minds about doing this. If you have an update, please let me know.

Thanks.
@ileane

catherine grison November 10, 2009 at 9:12 pm

I just totally agree. TOTALLY.

catherine grison November 10, 2009 at 9:12 pm

I just totally agree. TOTALLY.

catherine grison November 10, 2009 at 9:12 pm

I just totally agree. TOTALLY.

dontcry December 22, 2009 at 1:41 am

I have for a long time now said publicly that Twitter needs to concentrate on making the platform more stable.
club penguin cheats

dontcry December 22, 2009 at 9:41 am

I have for a long time now said publicly that Twitter needs to concentrate on making the platform more stable.
club penguin cheats

gucciwomensshoes January 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Sometimes, when the bag gucci on display will catch your fancy simply because it is “cute gucci womens shoes. http://www.gucciwell.com

Payday Loans April 21, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Interesting post. Definitely one I'll share with friends! same day payday loans

Richardjay2000 August 17, 2010 at 11:16 am

Making a concerted effort to combat spam is one of the main reasons Facebook has Myspace in a stranglehold, particularly among the non-teen demographic. Internet Hosting save fuel Electronic Cigarette tava tea error fix

New hairstyles for 2011 September 16, 2010 at 9:45 am

The choice of using the built in ReTweet will help clean up unedited ReTweets. The question is: How will apps handle it?

{ 9 trackbacks }