RT vs. Retweet

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RT vs. Retweet

This is a post about "retweeting," a beautifully evolved and delicate little social dance called that Twitter users invented, and Twitter's so-called "Retweet" feature, which stomps on it.

In this post, I'll call the original, organically evolved practice "RT" (as it is usually written in tweets), and Twitter's confusingly named mis-feature "Retweet" (with uppercase "R").

-- Peter Kaminski 15:21, 3 December 2009 (PST)

Social Relationship

An RT comes from somebody I follow. The reason I follow people on Twitter is because I want to know what they're thinking and what they want to say. An RT is a way for somebody to repeat (and perhaps change, perhaps not) what somebody else has said, and give them credit for it. But it's important to me that it's not just a little bauble they find interesting (that's what Favorites are for), but that they're willing to enter it into public record as something they're willing to repeat, in their voice.

On the other hand, a Retweet comes from somebody I'm not following. Yeah, sure it's interesting to see new people on Twitter -- but I'm deliberate about who I'm following and who I'm not. If I'm not following someone, I don't want to see them in my timeline. Let me go see who they are and what they're about, then maybe I'll follow them. But please, I don't want random people popping up in my timeline.

Darn it Twitter - "retweet" Meant Something Else!

The original RT practice evolved as a set of social gestures:

  • repeating what someone else said
  • giving someone else credit
  • sometimes giving multiple people credit, in an RT chain
  • editing original sayings to fit in 140 characters after adding the "RT" string and the @-sign attributions
  • editing original sayings to add commentary or change emphasis

Creating a good RT is an editorial, curatorial and social process. Should I give someone credit, or not? How many people should I give credit? Should I edit it to punch it up, or add emphasis?

Seeing someone else take my tweets and add and shape them makes me feel good. It's an act of love and co-creation. The RT practice works the way people have talked and chatted with each other, about each other, since people became human and started talking.

Even seeing somebody retweet something poorly -- missing an attribution, or editing badly -- was a meaningful social gesture. Did they just not know the conventions? In that case, it's a great opportunity to be social with them and help them out. Are they just mean-spirited, and they don't really care about other people? Bad retweeters could communicate that, as well.

On the other hand, a Retweet is a simple, mechanical indication that someone liked something. It's wonderful that social media systems like Flickr, Delicious and Facebook allow you to see what other people think is interesting, with "Like" and "Favorite" affordances -- they're great mechanisms for discovery. Slashdot and Digg are entire services built just on that concept. And of course, Twitter itself has a Favorite feature that they haven't really exposed as well as they could have for readers.

I don't have any problem with the Like/Favorite affordances. But @Twitter, for shame -- why would you name your Like feature "Retweet," and completely confuse the wonderful social practices that had evolved so beautifully on your service?

But I Just Want to Share Interesting Tweets Easily

It was a little bit of work to make a regular RT with the standard tools -- cutting, pasting, making sure you got the attribution correctly. But third-party Twitter clients and Twitter add-ons like Greasemonkey scripts included easy single-click RT features, which went along with the original social practice, and didn't break it like the Retweet feature did.

Ease of use doesn't explain why the new Retweet feature breaks all the sociality of the old RT convention.

Business Model; Relevance and Ranking

I would guess that at least some of the motivation behind Twitter's implementation of the Retweet feature is that they think it will be good for their business. When everybody is using an automated mechanism, Twitter can tell just by counting button clicks what's being repeated most often. It automatically aggregates popularity, which of course has some relation to relevance.

I don't have any problem with Twitter counting popularity of tweets. But again, they should use a Like function, or their Favorite function, for that, instead of bastardizing retweets.

References and Further Discussion

The discussion around the Retweet mis-feature has been ongoing for months. Here are some pointers to other voices.

#saveretweets

Some representative tweets from the last month or so that were posted under the #saveretweets hashtag.

  • RenVonVit - RT @RayBeckerman: I strongly urge my friends who RT NOT to use the Twitter pseudo-retweet button. #saveretweets
  • RickyMaveety - @RayBeckerman I saw that feedback request. I gave them feedback. They won't like it, but I told them the truth. #saveretweets
  • lacouvee - @dingbatkaren nothing to YAY about!! They just don't get it #saveretweets
  • TomRaftery - @franksting Well, it is by a ZenDesk webform. Tbh, I don't care how it is received, as long as Twitter fix the RTs #saveretweets
  • eviltofu - RT @ctham: @GrowlyBear I'd rather it does not. I'd rather copy-n-paste entire tweets than use the new RT button. #saveretweets
  • erika613 - RT @queerunity RT @RayBeckerman Don't use Twitter's version of the "retweet" http://is.gd/59hDD #saveretweets
  • kootenayrev - @buzzbishop So do. Many are boycotting the new RT and just sticking to the old way of RTing. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
  • triumph68 - @LesbianDad If you want to add comment or alter orig tweet at all (+some other things), use orig "RT" format not the button. #saveretweets
  • pkieltyka - RT @mhp: Please #SaveReTweets and do away the unwanted implementation RT @jack: Anyone know how to turn off the auto RT function in Twe ...
  • jimrhiz - Twitter clients should keep original retweet mechanisms as well as canned uncommentable version #SaveReTweets @echofon
  • JulieDeYoung - Thanks, I agree: RT @RayBeckerman What to do with Twitter's pseudo-retweet button: ignore it http://twurl.nl/jakme5 #saveretweets
  • RayBeckerman - #saveretweets RT @Kcecelia Continue to:not use new RT,vocally object,provide objections to techies such as,e.g, @davewiner to note/pass on.
  • RayBeckerman - Twitter tip:Don't use so-called "retweet" button on Twitter's web site http://is.gd/4YRfB #twitterfail #saveretweets
  • cjoehl - RT @Strwbrry_Blonde IT HAPPENED. retweet feature pushed @michellemalkin into my feed. I AM UNFOLLOWING YOU ALL. #saveretweets #p2
  • CloudK9 - Agree! Using "Genuine Retweet" for this! RT @Andjelija Dear @twitter please #saveretweets. I'm not liking the new system AT ALL. Sorry ;-(
  • sarachapman - removing comments on twitter's new retweet function is a joke- whole point of a RT is you're reacting to something you've read #saveretweets
  • Nanmac3109 - AGAIN, I do not like the new retweet function. I don't like for ppl to appear on my timeline who I do not follow. grrrrrrr #saveretweets
  • AmishPhoneBook - RT @NYT_JenPreston When I see all the smart things our readers say, I hope no one ever uses new RT feature. #saveretweets
  • JessicaPuchala - #saveretweets !!- seriously! -- RT @Twitter_Tips: New Twitter RT's Don’t Get The "Social" In "Social" Media: http://j.mp/2dMiW9
  • alison99 - Agree 100% RT @LisaBarone: Why Twitter's New Retweet Feature Sucks http://tinyurl.com/ybs2mft #justsayin #saveretweets
  • davechapman - @Twitter_Tips I hate that you use the new-style RT so much. My feed is a mess now! I'm gonna unfollow you unless you stop #saveretweets
  • Makurrah - RT @kootenayrev: Thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature. A wretched feature. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
  • sookieverseblog - Hate it. Hate it. HATE. IT. #SaveReTweets
  • ElVeiga - RT @davechapman: @twitter @ev wanted to let you know I really don't like the new retweet feature. please reconsider it #saveretweets
  • jmcesteves - Rerepeating :) RT @plasticmadness I hate to repeat myself, and I hate the word hate, but I hate you damn new RT ways! Grrrr… #saveretweets
  • denvan - @brandexpression Re. New RT a joke. Nope: I've got a growing list of 10+ anti-RT blogs: http://tinyurl.com/yfkega8 #saveretweets
  • kootenayrev - Thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature. A wretched feature. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
  • Makurrah - @HowardKurtz #SaveReTweets and check my new blog post on " Resistance or Collaboration: How will you ReTweet? http://bit.ly/4j76mO
  • Stargirlie713 - RT @Shoq: #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie http://bit.ly/z2bYr #saveretweets
  • AmishPhoneBook - RT @rochtrev: RT @several_ RT @PkaPk: Me 2. RT @bytesize23b: @twitter I oppose new RT feature.I wnt 2 C names of ALL who RT. #SaveReTweets
  • phoenix_drums - I like MC Hammer as much as the next person, but I don't recall following the dude. #saveretweets
  • AmishPhoneBook - RT @rrcarter: @TheDLC I also HATE the retweet function! It's crappy. Go here to sign a petition against it: http://act.ly/er #SaveRetweets
  • snugglezz - RT @RayBeckerman: RT @mlharr i noticed w/ the RT button we cannot comment anymore :( #sad #twitter @ev @twitter #saveretweets #twitterfail
  • andrewmueller - @DenVan Worse than that they are saying "we know what is best for users" That said, it may be best for their bus model #SaveRetweets
  • Just_Vampires - Congrats @twitter - the dumb beta RTs ensure I shall no longer tweet via the web interface. Here's to tweetdeck and echofon #saveretweets
  • mireyamayor - Isn't the personalization what makes you stand out in social media? Why take this critical feature away? @RayBeckerman #saveretweets @ev
  • RayBeckerman - RT @musingvirtual: RT @GraceMcDunnough Twitter Tries To Change Retweets, Doesn’t Get The Social In Social Media #SaveRetweets
  • RayBeckerman - RT @MissShuganah: Too bad @ev and @twitter have no competition. Then they wouldn't be so cavalier about community. #saveretweets Pls RT
  • OscarB - Ok, the new official RT system is a #BIG #FAIL #saveretweets
  • tamaracharmed - lLOL! RT @dbugliari: Came home to @Alyssa_milano dressed in black. Apparently, she's mourning the loss of retweet's integrity. #saveretweets
  • Latimore - RT @Jason_Pollock: #SaveRetweets: I think since Twitter is ruining RTs that many will just stop RTing as much since the new feature is s ...
  • Stwo - RT @andrewmueller: @twitter who did U talk to when determining how2implement the new RT function,it certainly wasn't UR users! #SaveRetweets
  • reeph - #SaveRetweets @Jason_Pollock I hate the new RT. I don't like emphasis on the original poster's handle. Plus, let me edit freely!

Comments

This page is cross-posted to the SxDSalon blog at RT vs. Retweet.

Comments should go over there. Thanks!

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