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.