Twitter users have been "retweeting" others for a while now, using functionality built into their desktop or web clients or sometimes just plain old
Ctrl+C. Twitter sat up and took notice and decided to incorporate retweets into their application (and API).
However, they changed the nature of the retweet so that it is now much harder to understand just who is doing the retweeting. Instead of seeing
RT @andymurd Hello world, the new Twitter retweet functionality simply puts the original into the stream of the retweeter.
The New Retweets Are Very Different
The functionality unveiled by Twitter fundamentally changes the nature of a retweet. The old retweets meant the retweeter was saying something like I endorse this message or I think this is cool/funny/useful/important. Who was doing the retweeting was very important - there was huge difference between a RT from your mum and one from @StephenFry.
The powers behind Twitter do realise that this is a big change, check out this quote from Evan Williams’ blog:
...I know the design of this feature will be somewhat controversial. People understandably have expectations of how the retweet function should work
In the rest of the post he explains that the new functionality was designed to address problems of attribution, redundancy/noise and trackability.
I agree that reducing redundant retweets is highly desirable - I don’t need to follow @Mashable any more because my other followers retweet every single thing he says! However, they’ve already taken steps to block duplicate tweets from a single user, surely this could be expanded to removing duplicate retweets from a user’s stream?
Trackability is a nice feature for application developers and data miners but does not directly affect the user experience. Third parties like TweetMeme have been approaching this problem with varying degrees of success.
I don’t agree with Evan that there is a problem with attributing retweets. For those of us with busy tweet streams, seeing a trusted avatar is a valuable signal of quality.
Retweets are a good measure of the virality of an idea but it would be naive to think that some twitterers have a great deal more influence than others. When a twitter celebrity RTs your message, you receive an influx of followers and a flood of traffic to any links in your tweet.
New Retweets Are Not All Bad
It’s not the end of the world - the old retweeting method still works.
Most twitter clients have not yet caught up with the API changes for retweets, so their adoption has been slow. Together with an adverse reaction from many users, the old retweets look set to stay.
There is a simple solution for Twitter to backpedal out of this corner - rebrand their retweet functionality.
Choosing a new name would make users think of the changes as new functionality, not changes to an existing (and much loved) feature. So what to call it? My suggestion is
cross-tweeting to reflect the crossing of twitter user streams that occurs when a tweet from a user that you don’t follow appears in your friends timeline.
What do you think? Perhaps you have a better name than
cross-tweeting. Please leave a comment.