Twitterloo! How to send Twitter on a hasty RT.

Soldiers at attention: awright Twitter conscript, approved you’ve probably heard that Twitter has finally enabled a feature it calls “Retweet”. Well, after years of hacking together manual ReTweets – cutting and pasting, editing, shortening, and workarounds by Twitter partner applications like TweetDeck, you’d think this would be cause for great rejoicing among the weary soldiers of Twitterland…

We Beg to Differ.

BegtoDiffer-Napoleon invents the RT
The invention of the ReTweet: Napoleon at Waterloo

What’s an RT?

For those new to Twitter (or with no patience for it), basically “RT” is a convention that arose among Twitter users as a way of sharing and amplifying content from other people that they agree with, find interesting or funny, or that adds to a discussion they’re having in some way. Here’s an extreme example of one message from last night:

Tweets from zchamu

Here’s a translation of the post:

  • @brianlj read a blog post by Twitter CEO Evan Williams @eV, and wanted to share the link and to let others  know  he disagreed with it.
  • He added the hashtag #Save ReTweet which made it part of a public discussion.
  • I wanted to share his thought with my followers (I’m @DenVan). So, I copied it and pasted it, and added “RT ” at the beginning, then added a comment at the end “Ditto”.
  • Then, my friend @zchamu did the same, crediting me and adding her comment “Me three!”

Think about how incredible that is. Four people’s thoughts are contained in the tiny, tiny space of just 140 Characters. That’s the power of the RT.

The revolution is ugly, but it works

Now granted, to the untrained eye, it looks a bit messy – okay really messy – so we’ve been hoping for some clean-up from the good people at Twitter for a long time. You know, a few simple tools that would respect the power and intent of the RT but would make it easier to use and scan.

But what happened instead? RT activist Dan Zarella puts it well when he says:

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.

The leader on a high horse

On Tuesday, Twitter head Evan Williams wrote his first blog post since March, “Why Retweet works the way it does”, with these ominous words:

I’m making this post because I know the design of this feature will be somewhat controversial. People understandably have expectations of how the retweet function should work. And I want to show some of the thinking that’s gone into it…

Uh-oh. Bad sign. When a CEO runs to the battlements so early in a communications piece, you can just smell the restlessness in the troops – and not just in the Twitterati, but among the people working at Twitter as well.

He goes on to describe RT as cool, before listing off a number of “problems” that currently exist with the RT convention that, as he puts it, “emerged organically from Twitter users as a way of passing on interesting bits of information”.

The problems Evan Williams lists (in brief):

  1. Attribution confusion – hard to tell who the “owner” of the originally tweeted content was.
  2. Mangled and Messy – formatting makes message hard to read and author’s intent may be lost.
  3. Redundancy – lots of “RePeets”.
  4. Noisiness – RT @sycophant RT @wanker Blah blah blah
  5. Untrackable – hard to collect RTs of a person or post in one place.

The solution from Twitter :

CEO profile

Let’s say that in the new Twitter RT universe, I wanted to share the incredible insight that Evan Williams actually posted last night (at right), with my followers.

  • A single “Retweet” button would appear under his tweet.
  • By clicking this, I would instantly create an exact verbatim copy of the original. My followers would see this exactly as @ev had written it, and what’s more, his name and avatar would appear beside them – even if my follower wasn’t following him.
  • As the Retweeter, my name would appear in a small footnote on the bottom of Ev’s tweet, but not in the actual Tweet.
  • Without any opportunity for editing or commentary, I couldn’t add context for my followers like “Can you believe this?” or “Me too!” or “What is this dude smoking?”.
  • No “RT” or other prefix will indicate that the is a ReTweet. Only that small footnote will make it appear different from any other tweet….

Our take: the new ReTweet “feature” needs Re-bwanding

Sorry Evan.

You’re a genius, and we all owe you a tremendous debt for creating this Twitter thing, but this new feature you’ve created is not ReTweet. I’ve called it “RePeet”. Or maybe it’s “Copy” or “Clone”, or as one wag called it “Exact Tweet” (ET – and it phones home to Twitter).

Whatever it is, it’s broken.

And we’re not alone in saying so.
(this list is growing, so please send us more!)

To the battlements! What you can do soldier:

  1. Don’t use the new button! Just keep doing what you’ve always done.
  2. Use the hashtag #SaveReTweets to register your displeasure.
  3. Inundate @ev and @twitter with negative traffic.
  4. Sign the petition Dan Zarella has put together.

11 thoughts on “Twitterloo! How to send Twitter on a hasty RT.”

  1. Now the “feature” is gone. I thought the general idea was good of having a re-tweet button. But what would be nice is if by clicking it, I could put my feedback onto it (as you said, “what is he smoking?”) and post. Then the post should look like “I” posted it, and at the bottom, put a note linking back to the original post (instead of the other way around).

    1. Andrew Mueller’s post on this is excellent and I owe him a huge shout-out for nudging me toward this topic, so I’ve also added his link to the post.
      Thanks Andrew M (that’s @andrewMueller, not @andrewMozier or @andrewMilne in this case)

  2. Dennis,
    well put.

    I’m completely for RT’s having a proper link back to the original, but the current strategy has the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle (or something like that). The commentary is critical, and can be very effectively used (as you aptly showcase on a regular basis).

    I’m still frustrated (being polite here) that they all but eliminated the link back with replies when the “fixed” them, making it all but impossible to follow a dialogue unless you happen to already follow all participants.

    The profound value of Twitter is in the conversations and it puzzles me why many of the so called improvements seem to work to stifle, fragment, and largely obfuscate them.

    In attempting to understand the “why” behind this the best that I’ve come up with is that there are a goodly number of “obvious” ways that things “should” work that depend on the type and scope of the individual users. And the key decision makers have a particular bent that’s at odds with many of their users.

    Either that, or as I strongly suspect is the case around replies, it’s driven more as an attempt to assist with company server capacity issues that it is to deliver end user features. Again that emPHAsis thing.


    1. I think company server cost issues are definitely part of the effort to “streamline” the DUM-RT (as I’ve just now decided to call the new feature – as opposed to TRU-RT or SMA-RT if you prefer).

      But there’s also Ev’s “attribution” play that puts a disturbing new top-down angle to all of this that will favour celebrity tweeters over the rest of us that hope to bask in their light. By a) attaching their avatar to the photo (not mine), and b)not allowing us to edit or comment, this move makes an RT more of a monologue from lofty Tweeter than a conversation between equals.

  3. Twitter has not implemented a retweet feature, they’ve implemented a “Like” button. Because you can’t add anything to it, such as the fact that you vehemently disagree, you are limited to only using it if you agree.

    So, go ahead, Twitter. Implement your new feature. But fix the button: it should just be “Like!”

    1. That’s an excellent comparison. It really doesn’t do much more than the “LIKE” function in FaceBook does it? That too leaves the original intact but allows you to “pull” it into your timeline. It’s also binary: you either like it or you don’t. You can’t even say “I don’t like this” any of the shades of “kinda, but what about…”.

      That’s why RT is so revolutionary. It has room for nuance, discussion, challenge, irony, whatever.

  4. Twitter’s new RT—which they probably should not have called “retweet”—is superior to good old RT in several ways.

    #1 – It can’t be modified. Yes, that’s a feature. Because old RTs can be modified, comments can be added, which is good. But the meaning of the original can also be changed, accidentally or maliciously, which is bad. When you look at a TitterRT, you know you are seeing the original tweet.

    #2 – It can’t be modified. Often, the only reason to change an original is to shorten it. How often have you spent 10 minutes editing an RT just to make it fit? And how often have you NOT been RTd becase it was too much hassle? Twitter’s RT is a link to the original, so there’s never any need to shorten.

    #3 – Look at your web sidebar. Observe the “Retweet” link just below “Favorites.” Click it. Ooh and Ahh.

    #4 – A TwitterRT also creates an old fashioned RT on the public timeline. This copy may be truncated. But it is searchable. You can see both TwitterRTs and Good Ole RTs of your (or anyone’s) tweets with a search on “@_____”

    #5 – When you want to append a comment, The old fashioned RT is still available, and will show up the old fashioned way.

    1. No argument that a) the new DUM-RTs are a nifty new feature or b) that they shouldn’t have been called RT. I think if they had simply added the new feature as “Like” or “Agree”, we would all be talking about how brilliant they are and how much better the new thang is than the FriendFeed or Facebook equivalents.

      But they didn’t. And really, that’s the whole point for me as a branding / naming / customer experience advocate: the name matters.

      They named and positioned the new feature as a replacement for RT. It is meant to become the one and only RT. Yes of course I understand that we can go on using the old one, and I will, because I have never RTed without commentary. But now the concept of “RT” is being stretched in two directions.

      As for “it can’t be modified” being an advantage, that’s a philosophical choice on the part of Twitter – one that I strongly disagree with. The Twitter I know / expect /promote is the realm of OPEN SOURCE ideas – where there is really no such thing as content “ownership”. So if I Tweet it, I also accept the possibility of alterations and even abuse, but I also know that my friends are out there to watch my back.

      I actually find this obsession with attribution very quaint (and therefore will damn it with quaint praise).

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