The Retweet Correction

I’ve got an idea for how Twitter should fix the reweet.  Currently there are two ways to reweet (ie repeat a twitter message to share it with your followers) and both are widely used.  This post is not about my personal preference (though for the record I agree with this) but about how to fix the problem that using two different systems amplifies the disadvantages of both.

Briefly, the advantages of the old style reweet is that you can edit to add your own comments.  The advantages of the new style reweet is that you can see the provenance (seeing exactly what was originally said, and when).  You can see who has retweeted you either way (through @replies for the former, through a less obvious dedicated “your tweets, retweeted” page for the latter).

The old style reweet is low-tech: stick RT @originatorsname in front of their tweet, or have your favourite client do that for you.  The new-style was developed by Twitter supported by dedicated API methods.  There’s no way of stopping people using the low-tech old way (and quite right too, since I prefer it) but equally Twitter are unlikely to remove their new version and it’s when both are used that you get the kind of compound disadvantage that is greater than the sum of its parts – for example, a tweet new retweet of an old retweet cannot be traced by the original tweet’s author.

Twitter should evolve their new retweet “feature” into a successor to the old manual retweet which delivers the benefits of the new – essential combining them.  They should do this in much the same way they’ve evolved the user-generated @reply functionality, where building on the convention that replies begin with @usernames they also allow the reply to include a reference to the tweet it is a response to.

Allow us to do an old-style retweet in the sense of quoting the text (allowing us to edit and augment) but include a reference to the original tweet.

Developers would be able to build on the API to allow users to see both the edited and the original tweet, allowing the conversation to develop whilst revealing its provenance. Rather than just seeing a list of who retweeted, originators would be able to see a timeline could showing how the conversation had developed.  And by combining this with the conversation threads the extant reply links allow, developers could present visualisations that map an original tweet with both all the retweets, and the conversations they developed.  This would unlock the value in the connections that retweeting creates.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See for more...

2 thoughts on “The Retweet Correction

  1. You know, just the other day I was thinking, “What would make retweeting Simon’s tweets easier?”

    The obvious answer: a shorter Twitter username! Between the RT and your username, 14 characters are immediately lost. Fully 10% of the meager 140 characters available are wasted in the process. Often when I retweet, I’ve already presented with a deficit of characters before I even start to try to add my own thoughts.

    There are even longer usernames out there.

    While I realize it wasn’t exactly “designed” this way, I consider it to be a serious design flaw that the length one’s username alters to functionality of the service! I’m seriously hunting for a shorter username for myself, but, of course, all the good short one are gone. No, strike that, all the short ones (good or bad) are gone. I believe all 1, 2 and 3 character combinations are gone, including “@_”

    1. Well, of course, my twitter handle is the same length as yours 😉

      I did give serious consideration to the length, but it wasn’t the most important factor (looking at those I follow, there’s a good many at 11 characters or above, probably mist if those who use their real name as a basis). More important to me that it was identifiably me, ie. included Simon Wood, which was why I changed it. I’d happily lose the Mr if someone were to give up simonwood :-). So I’m afraid I’m not going to go for something more cryptic to help RTs. In fact, I’m rarely bothered myself by the character limits – they’re part of what make Twitter so useful – so for me it’s worth having to wrestle with what to edit on occasion.

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