Twitter. Retweet. Fail.

12 11 2009

Twitter plans to add native retweeting to  In plain language that means that you will be able to automatically resend or retweet messages from your twitter homepage with a single click.  However the intention is to fundamentally change the nature of RTs in the process.  In essence the retweets will look like the original tweet with the image or avatar and name of the originator.  The fact that they have been propelled by someone or ‘retweeted’ will only appear in the faint information below the tweet (or the metadata).

Twitter co-Founder Ev Williams explains the reason for this in great detail on his EvHead blog.  The argument for the change is that tweets will be unedited (they often have to be at present to allow characters for the tweeters name), they will be correctly attributed and you wont see multiple retweets because “You will only get the first copy of something retweeted multiple times by people you follow”.   This fundamentally misses the pont.  By seeing multiple retweets you get a real sense of the saliency or level of interest in a particular tweet.  No-one rereads them all.  Another problem with the new retweet system is the very absence of the retweeter – except in the metadata, and there is no guarantee that twitter clients will show this metadata.   The identity of the retweeter is important because it is an endorsement and the value of that endorsement varies according to who is providing it…what if you get a retweet from @stephenfry or Ev himself but lots of people never see it because @joebloggs got in there first?.

Finally retweeting is not a concept originated by Ev Williams, Biz Stone or indeed anyone at Twitter it was originated by the community and belongs to the community.  Ev says in his post “I know the design of this feature will be somewhat controversial”.  My guess if that users will continue to retweet in the way that they do now and ignore the retweet function on, and if they do this new feature will prove to be a real misjudgement. Fail.




3 responses

12 11 2009
Web Ideas

Finally :)

13 11 2009
Danny Whatmough

Totally agree with you Rob. Imposing functionality on what has always been a very open platform could be a slippery slope.

Of course, the additional revenues Twitter will be able to claim through advanced analytic data might be the real reason for the move…

19 11 2009
Emily McDaid

Interesting post Rob. It’s good to be skeptical of new features and I’m glad I am part of the beta to be able to judge these matters. But in this case, I tend to be a bit more trusting of Ev. As CEO’s go it seems to me he’s just about as genuine to the open source cause as you can get. I don’t actually believe the main motivation for this is to make Twitter a platform for evil marketing dollars changing hands. I think there was a genuine need, fueled by legal frameworks, to ensure people stop being wrongly retweeted. Otherwise celebrities and public figures will eventually sue Twitter and bring the whole thing crashing down. As an American I can say that sadly the US legal system WOULD allow that eventuality. The new RT button gets around that. Another point I disagree with you about is not being able to gauge noise with the new RT button. It clearly says underneath how many people RT’ed something and you can look at their avatar. Sure the functionality needs to improve a bit, but I think Twitter will get there eventually. So I’m not ready to give up on it yet, as a Beta tester.

For me the one disappointment is something you haven’t touched on, that RTs are apparently taken out of the normal tweet stream and dealt with separately.

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