I would like to speculate a bit about why Twitter has chosen to architect the new “Retweet feature” without the ability to edit, and why they chose to call it Retweet even though it does not serve the same function as the cultural convention that we currently call Retweet.
Retweet, as a cultural convention has been a significant driver to Twitter adoption and even more so in creating Twitter evangelists. Many of the most diehard Twitter users frequently use Retweet. In doing so they not only distribute others content but connect to their followers. They add value through edits that add content, context, Humor etc. Often this added information is appreciated and conversational. In turn, the retweeter gains visability and credibility as a curator of good content and fosters conversations about the content. I suspect some of the most diehard Twitter users would revolt if they were confined to the new Retweet feature, wherein edits are not possible.
Danah Boyd @zephoria, Scott Golder, and Gilad Lotan are Microsoft researchers who have done extensive research on the significance of the Retweet and will soon publish a paper on the Conversational Aspects of Retweet. As part of their analysis, a series of questions were posted via @Zephoria’s account to her 12000 followers, the responses reveal the following motivations for retweeting (and I quote):
To amplify or spread tweets to new audiences (e.g.,@rootwork: RT sees value and amplifies it and@lazygal: that which I think the majority of my“followers” haven’t seen already)
To entertain or inform a specific audience, or as anact of curation (e.g., @jmccyoung: to inform oramuse the handful of people who follow me)
To comment on someone’s tweet by retweeting andadding new content, often to begin a
conversation(e.g., @anitsirk: to start a conversation about thecontent of the tweet)
To make one’s presence as a listener visible (e.g.,@doctorlaura: it shows that one is not just talking,but also listening)
To publicly agree with someone (e.g., @rzouain:retweets are the ‘me too’ 2.0)• To validate others’ thoughts (e.g., @amandapey:because sometimes, someone else just says it better)
As an act of friendship, loyalty, or homage bydrawing attention, sometimes via a retweet request
To recognize or refer to less popular people or lessvisible content (e.g., @laurelhart: to supportunder-recognized people or topics)
For self-gain, either to gain followers or reciprocityfrom more visible participants (e.g., @gravity7: toincrease own followers, as a favor, possibly for thereturn favor (from influencer))
To save tweets for future personal access (e.g.,@peteaven: so I can find the tweet later bysearching on myself, checking my updates)
While some value retweeting, others lament users’selfish motivations (e.g., @earth2marsh: at bestretweets altruistically propogate interesting info withcredit to originator. At worst it’s pandering for socialcapital” and @argonaut: educated gossiping meetskarma whoring). In doing so, they acknowledge thatretweeting can be both a productive communicativetool and a selfish act of attention seekers.
In this last paragraph, the last sentence is critically is important; Retweeting, as it is used today, may be simultaneously selfish and beneficial to the communty! So wouldn’t it be up to the community to self police the use of Retweet? There is a simple method of doing so called unfollow. The question is how the new Retweet feature will effect the motivations to Retweet. In many cases, the inability to edit or add info to a Retweet would have a negative effect on the motivation to do so. Therefor we could expect to see less distribution of information to the long tail of twitter users. But surprisingly Twitter still chose to design it this way.
The new Retweet feature is not what Retweet, as a cultural convention, has evolved to be. The inability to edit and see the chain of discovery makes the new Retweet feature something different and should be called something else; a “Relay” maybe. It should sit side by side with the old ReTweet convention and not try to replace it, nor fight for mindshare; this just adds confusion where non needs to be.
So, if this causes confusion why would Twitter do it?
Evan Williams, Twitter’s CEO, posted ” Why Retweet works the way it does” to his blog. In this post he explains some of the reasons for the decisions behind the design of the new Retweet feature. Almost the first thing Evan says is “I’m making this post because I know the design of this feature will be somewhat controversial”. This set the tone of the post as one defending the decisions that Twitter made. Many of the reasons are certainly valid, but the tone of “we know what is best” was disturbing. I was particularly taken back by “Also, old-school retweets are still allowed” Allowed?
Twitter knew that this would be controversial and must have strong business reasons for designing this feature this way and calling it Retweet especially when their it could have simply been called Relay. It is the naming of the feature “Retweet” that has caused all the contoversy.
I would venture to guess that this has something to do with Google and Bing search deal, for surely this new feature adds considerable value to search by providing metadata, and Twitter likely wants to convert as many people as possible to using the new Retweet feature so they can deliver more value to their search partners. Thus by calling the new Twitter feature “Retweet” they attempt to gain mindshare over the old cultural convention the community calls “Retweet” in hopes that the latter will fall into disuse.
It would have been so simple to call the new feature “Relay” or “Quoted Tweet” or something else and avoid this whole mess.
I hope someone can correct me and tell me I am dead wrong, but to me it seems all too obvious.
Leave a comment and tweet me @andrewmueller and let me what you think about this.
Some other good reading about retweet:
Twitter Plans to Mangle ReTweets #SaveReTweets, by Dan Zarrella @danzarrella
Simple Is As Simple Does: The Risk Of Retweet, by MG Siegler @parislemon
Twitterloo! How to send Twitter on a hasty RT Dennis van Staalduinen @DenVan