Twitter has recently made some controversial changes to the retweet feature. So here’s a selection of answers to the most urgent questions that are being asked by the Twitter community.
How Did The Retweet Develop?
If we had to select just one reason for the rapid growth in the popularity of Twitter, it would be the Retweet feature.
It is this feature that has allowed the Twitter community to discover the things that are of most importance to them at any moment.
However, when the Twitter platform was initially designed, it’s highly unlikely that the founders envisaged the Retweet concept.
The Retweet custom (adding RT then the @username before the original message, possibly followed by a short comment) was developed over time by the early Twitter users, then embraced by several third party applications until it become one of the cultural icons of the internet age.
It was something that the community worked out for itself and evolved over time, rather than a business strategy that was designed from the beginning, and that’s a major part of its charm. People like to believe that they’ve discovered something rather than being told what to do.
Twitter gave us a simple platform and we developed customs and traditions so that we could use it in the way that brought most value to our lives.
What Were The Problems With The Original Retweet Convention?
However, the ad-hoc retweet system developed by the early Twitter users is not perfect.
First, as you have to include both the @username of the original tweeter plus the designation RT, there are situations where you have to edit the original message to comply with the 140 character limit. Apart from being more time consuming, this can lead to a loss of context in some retweeted messages.
Second, if several of your followers retweet the same message, this can lead to significant repetition of content in your timeline.
So towards the end of November 2009, Twitter rolled out a completely new Retweet system in an attempt to fix these issues.
What Is Twitter’s Solution?
They have added a new Retweet icon to the website interface. So instead of having to cut and paste messages then add RT and the @username all you have to do is click the icon.
When you retweet a message using this new icon, your followers will see the message in their timeline alongside the avatar of the Twitter user who posted the original message. This happens regardless of whether they are following that person.
Twitter also claims to have fixed the repetition of repeated messages in the timeline by grouping together identical retweets. So from now on, you’ll only see a repeated message once within your timeline. There will also be info under the message letting you know the two or more of your followers who have retweeted the message.
If you want to manage your retweets, clicking on the retweets link on the right hand side of the main interface will bring up a page with 3 options;
a. Retweets by others - This is a list of all the retweets made by the people you follow. The appear in largely in chronological order although the most popular retweets tend to appear near the top of the list. This gives you the option to reply to any of them or retweet them to your followers.
b. Retweets by you - A list of all the messages that you have retweeted. This gives you the option to reply to tweets or to cancel your retweet using the undo link.
c. Your Tweets, Retweeted - See which of your tweets have been retweeted by your followers.
Finally, it’s also possible to block retweets from appearing on your timeline on a user by user basis. Just visit their profile page, click the green circular retweet button (next to the following message at the top of their page) until it turns grey. Their tweets will no longer appear in your timeline. To unblock them, just reverse the process.
What Do Twitter Want To Accomplish With The New Retweet Feature?
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams has stated that the new Retweet feature is designed to;
a. Avoid attribution confusion when people retweet messages,
b. Prevent retweeted messages that are broken or lose the original context, and
c. Reduce the amount of noise in the timeline.
The ultimate aim is to make the Twitter network a more powerful tool for “helping people find out what’s happening now that they care about.”
That’s all very noble, but still seems rather superficial. A business team as talented as the one running Twitter always have a deeper, more profound strategic reason for everything that they do.
So What Could Be The Real Reason Behind These Changes?
Several theories (both plausible and ridiculous) have been advanced, including;
1. The grouping of retweets may be necessary to reduce the strain on bandwidth. This is plausible given that there is no option to modify the original message which will significantly reduce the number of different retweet messages that stem from the same original source.
2. To encourage people to use the main website (rather than third party apps) so that they can make more money if they introduce ads in the future.
3. To encourage people to use apps rather than the main website to save bandwidth.
However, in light of the recent announcement from NewsCorp (where the NewsCorp content will be removed from the Google index in favour of an exclusive deal with Bing) this could be a way for Twitter to leverage the power of their network to turn a profit without having to resort to charging users or displaying ads within the network.
If Twitter could reach a deal with one of the search engines, such as Google, to provide the data required to improve their real-time search engine results, it could help them to generate significant revenue.
And unlike the situation with NewsCorp, which appears to be commercial suicide, this option could be a viable alternative for Twitter as all the content is user generated.
What Are The Positives?
a. The retweet system is much quicker and easier to use
b. Your timeline will contain less noise
c. The new API means that third party apps will be able to support the new Retweet function more efficiently (or so the programmers claim)
d. As you can’t edit the original message there is no risk of annoying the original author by changing the context of their message or using the wrong attribution.
e. You can retweet messages up to the full 140 character limit without using some of the allowance including the letters RT and the original author’s @username.
f. Perhaps the best news is that you can still use the original manual retweet system, although they will not appear in the section showing who has Retweeted your tweets. And in time it may not be picked up by the various apps and services once they’ve been updated to support the new retweet feature.
And that’s the high point of the new official retweet system. It all starts to break down from this point.
What Are The Negatives?
There are several negatives and a large number of irritated users. According to one poll, only 6% of respondents like the new retweet feature as it currently stands. Even worse, thousands of users are using the Twitter network to spread their grievances.
Here are just a few of the complaints advanced by the Twitter community;
a. It puts strangers in my stream
b. They have changed the definition of retweeting
c. Social media is all about trust. Using someone else’s avatar in my timeline loses that trust factor. When I used to see a retweet by one of the people I follow, I immediately knew 3 things; (i) it’s a retweet, (ii) it’s worthy of my attention and (iii) it will probably link me to someone I may like to consider following. Now I see an unfamiliar face.
d. It removes my ability to add my own commentary. From now on, Retweeting something means that you agree with it. So it has become a vote for that tweet rather than an opportunity to add my own editorial judgement that my followers trust me to deliver.
e. I no longer had the chance to add value through my retweets because the new system simply attaches my meta data to something that already exists.
f. It takes away my visibility in my own network. It does me no good to find good content and retweet it if I’m not getting credit for it.
g. Why can’t they concentrate on reliability of service?
h. It makes it too easy to retweet, meaning that people will no longer be selective when seeking out the best messages and content to share.
i. Grouping the retweeted message makes it easier for me to miss popular messages within my timeline.
j. As many apps don’t support the new Retweet feature yet, anyone who uses a third party app may miss out on messages that have been retweeted.
k. When the new retweet system is used, deleting the original message now deletes all the retweets, making it much easier to remove information from the system.
l. If you @reply, it goes to the tweet originator, rather than the person who retweeted it. If you want to reply to the retweeter, you have to visit their profile and reply to another of their regular tweets or manually enter their @username. In both cases, the “in reply to…” function is rendered useless.
m. The retweet function doesn’t show up if you are reading tweets via a list.
n. As you can now add someone to a list without following them, their retweets using the new system won’t show up on your list.
o. If people are following a list that you are on, but they aren’t following you personally, they won’t see your retweets.
p. It’s almost like they sat around asking, “What would Microsoft do?”
The overall feeling seems to be that the Twitter should let the users develop the way that they like to use the service then modify it to reflect the conventions that the crowd have developed.
Only time will tell whether the developers at Twitter listen to the people who have helped the site to reach its current level of popularity.
Who Will Like The Changes?
If you generally use the main Twitter.com site to retweet messages, you rarely add comments and you don’t mind unfamiliar avatar images appearing in your timeline, you will probably prefer the new system. It’s quicker, cleaner and more compact.
Who Will Dislike The Changes?
If you like to add comments to your Retweets, if you like to get exposure among your followers for highlighting valuable tweets or if you prefer to see familiar thumbnails within your timeline, you’ll be sorely disappointed by the recent changes to the Twitter network.
What Should You Do?
At present, many of the existing Twitter apps don’t support the new Retweet feature. So if you like the new Retweet feature, use the main Twitter.com site until your favorite app supports the latest changes.
If you don’t like the changes, continue using one of the third party apps to operate your Twitter account, continue using the old manual RT @username method, then cross your fingers that the app you use doesn’t adopt the new Retweet feature.
If you still use the interface on the main Twitter site, there’s a Firefox Greasemonkey script created by Leonard Lin that modifies the way the new retweet function works within your browser.
Once you’ve got the addon installed, retweeted messages that show up in your timeline will display the avatar of the person who posted the original message and the avatar of the person who retweeted it (one of your followers). This layered avatar makes it clear that the message is a retweet and reduces the shock of finding an unfamiliar image in your timeline.
However, please bear in mind that this script only affects the avatars that you see in your browser. It will not affect the way that your use of the new Retweet system affects other people. Several people have stated that they will unfollow anyone who uses the new system. So if you use the new Retweet function, be prepared for some of your followers to leave you.
What do you think of Twitter’s new retweet feature? Let us know in the comments below.