The best and worst thing Twitter did in 2009: RT

A representative tweet from tonight says it all: “how can new RT’s be cool? No context, no editing possible.” (TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher said that).

The new retweet feature is definitely the worst and best thing Twitter did this year.

Why does it suck?

Well, a few reasons:

1. Twitter doesn’t use it consistently everywhere. For instance, if you use Twitter’s new list feature you won’t get a choice to retweet there. Why not? Well, @nk who built the list feature at Twitter says “we actually deliberately excluded them. Some people complained they were annoying.” (In this case Twitter should ignore the customers — if you listen to Porsche customers they’ll design you a Volvo, that’s the case here).
2. The new RT did NOT match how people were using old RTs. Old RTs are more like a quote. You’d put “RT” at the beginning of a Tweet, copy and paste the Tweet you wanted to tell everyone about, then add a little comment onto the end, if you had space. The new RT doesn’t let you edit the Tweet you are quoting and doesn’t let you explain to your readers why you think that Tweet is worth RT’ing.
3. Not every client supports the new RT and they don’t support it in the same way. This is VERY confusing. Seesmic, for instance, doesn’t support it the same way across all of their clients and that’s from one company.
4. Twitter didn’t do a good job of explaining WHY this new functionality was needed (it was for a future version of search that they don’t want to discuss in public yet — instead they explained it that users were doing RT’ing wrong. That pissed everyone off and tainted this feature).

I commented at the time of its release that Twitter should NOT have called this “retweeting.” Instead they should have called it “sharing” or “favoriting” or “liking.” In reality this is a copy of liking features that FriendFeed has had for quite a while.

OK, so, now that we got all the bad out of this, here’s why I love the new RT feature:

1. It works on mobile. I use it all the time on Tweetie, my favorite iPhone app. It is easier to do than the old RT feature. Plus, it’s impossible to screw up (on mobile it’s very easy to copy and paste something wrong, or mess something up). I use the new RT feature all the time because it is two clicks and everyone gets to see something cool I just saw.
2. The retweets by others page is one of my favorite pages on Twitter now. Why? Because I get to see tons of stuff that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise (and I’m following 16,000 people so I get to see a lot of stuff you probably don’t see).
3. It paves the way to a new Twitter world: one where metadata gets included OUTSIDE the Tweet rather than inside. This new world gives me characters back and makes Twitter potentially dramatically more useful.
4. It will make search dramatically better. Now that Google is adding tweets to real time results we see just how bad these results are (see Danny Sullivan’s post about Brittany Murphy’s death and the results on Google for awesome examples). Why? Because everyone’s tweets are treated the same. To make search better we need more data about which tweets really are important. Tweets that have a ton of RT’s are dramatically more important for search results than ones that don’t have RT’s (the new RT feature is a lot easier for third-party services like TweetMeme and other search engines to count).
5. If someone starts retweeting too many items, or items you don’t want to see you can turn them off (I was doing too many RT’s yesterday, for instance, to turn them off to protect yourself just click the green retweet button at the top of my page to turn off RT’s from me, for instance).

That said, I’ve switched my behavior and urge you to switch too.

I still do old-style RTs, but on Tweetie I use the “Quote” feature to do that. Usually I will just quote a Tweet and then add a note about what was important. So Mike’s tweet becomes:

“how can new RT’s be cool? No context, no editing possible.” via @mikebutcher (I think he’s wrong, see my blog for why).

Anyway, there are HUGE changes coming to Twitter and this is just a foreshock. Twitter should be MORE aggressive and more consistent in pushing out these changes so that new search features can be enabled.

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. Excellent overview of pro's and cons. Another important issue I have with the new RT is visibilty. When RTs shows up in my timeline they show the person that did the retweet only in a very limited, not really visible way (small font, under the tweet). This makes it hard for me to discover what value I should give to the RT. RTs by some are more important than others for me. So better visibility might be something they should add.

  2. Yes, I agree. It's really just “sharing” or “liking”. We brought it up on the twitter development list and really wanted to know why they didn't just really build up the feature already there – Favorites!

  3. I think they should leave the current functionality as it is – and just rename it to 'like' – I do use the new system but I use it when I want to repeat something verbatim which to me is 'liking' something. If they continue to develop it under the 'retweet' name it will just confuse users further.

    The fact is that the volume of normal RT's which have been edited has stayed pretty constant and in the case of links (my specialty subject) people clearly use RT's the same as they did – because they need to add commentary to explain why they are sharing the link.

    To me there are two distinct use cases

    1) Content Sharing – You want to share a link to your followers, in this case you want to be able to definitely want to add commentary.
    2) Tweet Repeating – I.e. you see a tweet that is funny/interesting/whatever and you just want to repeat it to your own followers.

    The first is 'retweeting' the second is 'liking' – and funnily enough Facebook has been doing it like this since they copied it from FriendFeed.

  4. I agree. I think they should have rolled the “favorite” feature into this new RT. This is a lot closer to that than it was to the old RT behavior. I agree with zbowling there (I do a LOT of favoriting, 10,500+ in last six months and I've been moving more and more of that behavior over to the new RT).

  5. Over at Dabr, we've tried to implement the new style RTs with a) As little problems/distractions to the user as possible and b) the option to use 'old style' RTs instead.

    I know you gave us some pluggage when we got Lists up and running, I'd love to see what you think of this: http://blog.dabr.co.uk/retweeted-to-you-by

    Cheers Robert,

    James.

    PS. Points two and three of your post have actually nearly swung me round to new style. In that respect it makes it kind of like the 'shared to you by your friends' section of Greader.

    Sweet.

  6. One of the things I most hated about old style RT's was that if something was being retweeted by lots of people, your stream ended up with a dozen RTs of the same thing. The new retweet system elegantly solves this, and for that alone I love it.

  7. Honesty – I think the old way & the new way should live in harmony; funny though – there's all sorts of benefit (search, meta data, etc) that comes with the new way, making the old way just kinda … selfish, “I need to be heard damn it!”; hell @ replies takes care of that, but whatever.

    I do, however, really dig the “quote” deal; if done right – it should have the same character count as “RT: @blahblah lipsum lorum yay” >> “I said this”~@blahblah … I dunno. It's semantics, and though I'm sick of this argument, I must say – it's not the subject matter at fault, it's the damn A.D.D. the “real-time web” promotes and trains into my brain constantly.

    Carry on, I believe the Baily's is kicking in…

  8. In which case, there's even less reason to dislike it. Think about it: How trivial, now that retweet data is metadata, would it be to create a list function in TweetDeck which showed the most popular RT's amongst your follow list? How easy would it be in a client to filter out all RTs from your main stream into a special column?

    All this is possible – and it wasn't before.

  9. Fair comment, and I look forward to them doing that. In the meantime Twitter needs to communicate the best use of the function far more clearly and renaming it Like or Share or Favourite or *Something Similar* would be a good start. RT was a totally organic process which was created by and named by users quite a long time ago now and later adopted by Twitter, top-down.

  10. And the best thing Twitter *could* do? Get rid of the ridiculous 140-character limit. The only place it makes sense is if you use it through SMS messages — and I wonder how many people still does that…

  11. This is another great post and I love the comments, too. The problem of figuring out the best tweets out of billions is still largely unsolved. Of what I have seen so far, I do like what TipTop is doing in this regard using some rather sophisticated technology. I also find their Re-Tip button a lot more effective than the Retweet (both old and new versions).

  12. Great post Robert…

    Funny thing:

    We Germans don’t even have the RT-feature any more when we switch to our mother language :)

    Most people I know don’t bother anyway. The English used on T. isn’t that complicated I believe, so we stick to the original…

    From Beijing,
    Markus
    @platypusman

  13. the new retweet function is kind of disappointing because you don't get the benefit of showing up on someone's @ listing, so they know that you have retweeted their stuff, so that you can get credit for helping them out

  14. I think twitter has a unique niche. Sometimes I don’t feel like a long blog entry. So getting a quick point across through a min-blog makes sense.

  15. Interesting idea. Trouble is, the Retweet APIs are so crippled that you'd easily exceed your API limit just by trying to find out who retweeted you.

  16. Worst thing about the new Retweet feature is – as adelaidedj pointed out – that retweets don't show up in your @ mentions anymore.

    This is a serious problem for Twitter clients, because – afaik – it's almost impossible to create a list of retweets of your own tweets via the retweet API calls. You'd quickly run out of API calls.

  17. I have to say: the old way of doing retweets SUCKED. The fact that the new way doesnt' let you edit the post is something I consider a major feature. And Twitter are right: the old way really does suck and need to die. That Twitter were willing to make a feature that's clealy implemented rather than kow-towing to the retweet crowd is a good thing. That it's pissed off a few people is not a bug, it's a feature.

    I've never understood the retweet thing. Back when it started, you had the social media crowd who seemed to spend all day in TweetDeck pushing the RT button like some kind of robotic army of Pavlovian dogs – and with all the creativity, ingenuity and imagination of a chicken trained to push buttons repeatedly to get food pellets. Why not, err, come up with something to say for yourself? Imagine going to a dinner party where nobody says anything of their own accord – nobody expresses any opinions or ideas of their own, but just mindlessly repeats other people's statements. That was Twitter for a while. That Twitter have introduced a feature that might make it possible to filter out that shit is one of the best things they did this year.

  18. Tweetie 2 definitely handles this the best, as far as I've seen. Keeping “Quote Tweet” as an option, which is what the old RT really was, allows for editing the message before posting. The two click retweet makes the process frictionless.

    I don't know why people are complaining, because they have the same behavior as before, if they want, and something new that's useful beyond just being an echo chamber (the metrics as you mentioned). You are right about the inconsistency problems, particularly between clients, but I think this will get worked out as clients are updated to fully take advantage of the new features. Clients that don't update will just lose users.

  19. Tweetie 2 definitely handles this the best, as far as I've seen. Keeping “Quote Tweet” as an option, which is what the old RT really was, allows for editing the message before posting. The two click retweet makes the process frictionless.

    I don't know why people are complaining, because they have the same behavior as before, if they want, and something new that's useful beyond just being an echo chamber (the metrics as you mentioned). You are right about the inconsistency problems, particularly between clients, but I think this will get worked out as clients are updated to fully take advantage of the new features. Clients that don't update will just lose users.