Why I Hate The New Re-Tweet

Nicholas Carlson TBI

Twitter’s new re-tweet function has always been completely awful, but now that it’s been integrated into my favourite Twitter iPhone app, Tweetie, it’s time to take a stand.

Back in the good old days — OK, last week — it used to be that when someone you followed on Twitter said something that you wanted to comment on and pass onto your own followers — say, “Tiger in hot water: http://bit.ly/7SzeYu,” — you could just hit the re-tweet button and send a message that read something like, “He looks so sad. RT @NichCarlson: Tiger in hot water: http://bit.ly/7SzeYu.”

Now — in the bleak era that is the present — when you hit the re-tweet button on Twitter.com or in Tweetie,  the message you wanted to comment on and forward onto your Twitter followers is slipped into their tweet streams looking as though it were a message from one of the people they were already following.

This drives me crazy for several reasons. Here are the six big ones:

  • Re-tweeting has always been about adding commentary to someone else’s tweet. Now, it’s suddenly not. Thanks for the three year head fake, Ev and Biz!
  • Retweets need context!
  • If you want to comment on someone else’s tweet using Tweetie, you now have to hit the quote tweet button.  Instead of “He looks so sad. RT @NichCarlson: Tiger in hot water: http://bit.ly/7SzeYu,” you get “Tiger in hot water: http://bit.ly/7SzeYu (via @NichCarlson). He looks so sad.” This forces me, the re-tweeter, to bury my commentary at the end of my tweet. It also obfuscates who said what.
  • By slipping the re-tweet into my follower’s stream in a way that makes it looks like a regular old tweet from somebody they were already following, the re-tweeting function greatly reduces my visibility as the person-who-found-the-great-tweet-you’re-looking at. Not to sound too much like a new media J-School professor, but I want credit for finding good tweets and re-tweeting them. People follow people because they are good re-tweeters.
  • Since the original tweeters’ name is removed from the re-tweet, the “mentions”column in TweetDeck no longer tracks how many times I’ve been re-tweeted.
  • Change? Who said I want change!

Now, when it comes to an issue as periously important as this, it’s obviously important to give equal time to the other side of the argument. Below, I’ve pasted Tweetie creator Loren Brichter’s three reasons he’s in favour of this change. My angry objections are in bold.

  • Previously, if one of your followers didn’t like the things that you retweeted, they’d have no choice but to unfollow you completely. With the new built-in retweets, Twitter has exposed a way for users to choose who’s retweets they see. So now, say you like what somebody else has to say but don’t like what they retweet, you can turn off their retweets and continue to follow them. 
  • The idea that I would want to follow somone but not want to follow their re-tweets is absurd. Half the people I follow I follow because they re-tweet well — because they’re good Twitter editors.
  • Redundancy. With the new retweet system, if the same tweet is retweeted by 50 of the people you follow, you won’t have to scroll past it 50 times. This cuts down on “retweet spam” greatly.
  • Actually, this will make it harder for users to find the really popular links being passed around Twitter. Miss it once and its gone forever! (It could also mean that Twitter will start sending less traffic to sites linked to in popular re-tweets. That would make it less valuable for publications to put re-tweet buttons in their posts, would drive drive down Twitter’s visiblity.)
  • Historically, the “RT” syntax has been a mechanism to “inject” what somebody else said into your own stream to share with your own followers. Twitter etiquette dictated that if you wanted to retweet and comment on the tweet, you use the less popular “via” syntax.
  • I only joined Twitter in early 2007, so, OK, I missed a year, but since then RTs have always been about commenting on the forwarded Tweet.

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