November 21st, 2009 | by Josh Catone
One of the best things about Twitter is the way that it allows content and information to spread quickly across the network from person-to-person. This happened for two reasons: 1. because Twitter is a one-to-many communications platform and 2. because it allows for content to be easily repeated. In fact, the latter led to what we call the “retweet.” It’s safe to say that the founders of Twitter did not initially envision this as a use for their platform, but the retweet convention organized itself organically and was embraced by third-party apps.
Unfortunately, retweets were messy for a couple of ways. First, because of the 140 character limit placed on tweets, retweeting someone else’s content sometimes meant editing their text in order to ensure that the customary “RT” and “@username” attributions fit. Second, because there’s often overlap in who we follow, retweets many times led to redundancy in your timeline as more than one of the people you followed retweeted the same content. So a couple of days ago, Twitter () rolled out a solution in the form of a completely new retweet system.
Retweets: Old vs. New
Retweeting someone used to be a completely manual process. You had to copy and paste their tweet, add the “RT” designation, and the “@username” attribution, then click the “update” button. Some third party Twitter clients had built-in retweet buttons, which would automatically add the proper attribution and designation text. Many times you would need to edit the original retweeted text in order to make it fit within Twitter’s 140 character limit. (This was because adding the “RT” and “@username” text would often push the tweet over the limit.)The old style of retweets also led to redundancy within your timeline. For example, I follow a number of people that also follow @mashable. Many of these people routinely retweet Mashable () stories, so whenever the @mashable account tweets a new link, my Twitter timeline is often filled with multiple identical retweets.
Twitter’s new official retweet feature fixes both of these issues. Now, instead of retweets being appended with the “RT” text designation, they have a special retweet icon. Further, they come directly from the original tweeter’s account — regardless of whether you are following that person. If one of your followers retweets User X, you’ll see that tweet in your timeline, with the icon designating it as a retweet and a message telling you which if your followers retweeted that tweet.
Further, Twitter has fixed the redundancy issue by grouping together identical retweets. You’ll only see that tweet appear in your timeline once, but the message telling you who retweeted it will let you know which two or more of your followers retweeted.
Is this good or bad? Twitter’s new retweets are undeniably cleaner and more organized than the original, manual method. Your timeline will be easier to read and less noisy as a result, and the new API means that third-party clients can build in native retweeting in a much cleaner way (some already have). Also, you no longer need to edit original tweet text, which means it is less likely you’ll anger someone by inadvertently changing the meaning of their original tweet or messing up the attribution.
However, it can also be somewhat jarring to see people you’re not following in your timeline, and the new retweets lack the ability to add commentary to retweets. In the past, when retweeting something, users would often add their own two cents before the “RT” text. Adding comments is not supported by the current implementation of retweets on Twitter (though there is a chance it will be in the future).
How To Retweet
Retweeting works a lot like replying to tweets from the web interface. If you hover your cursor over a tweet — in either your timeline or on any user’s profile page, a “Retweet” link will appear directly to the right of the “Reply” link that has always been there. To retweet the tweet, all you have to do is click on the link.But then what happens? The tweet you just retweeted will appear in the timelines of your friends regardless of whether they follow the original tweeter. If you think twice about your retweet, you can undo it. To manage your retweets, click on the “Retweets” link in the right hand side navigation. That will bring you to a page with three tabs:
– Retweets by others – These are all the retweets by the people you follow. They’re arranged loosely by time, but the most retweeted posts tend to bubble to the top of the list. From here you can reply to or retweet any of the tweets listed
– Retweets by you – This tab shows all of the tweets that you have retweeted. From here you can reply to tweets or undo your retweet (simply hover over the tweet and click the “Undo” link that appears).
– Your tweets, retweeted – These are your original tweets that others have retweeted. From here you can delete your tweets. You can also see who retweeted you, and when.
While there is no way to turn retweets off completely, there are two ways to block retweets from from appearing your timeline on a user by user basis. If you block a user, you won’t see their retweets in your timeline, even if someone you’re following retweets that user. You can also block retweets that a user you are following makes from appearing your timeline.
To turn off retweets from a specific user, visit their profile page and click on the circular green retweet button that appears next to the “Following” message at the top of their page. Once you click on the button, it will turn grey, indicating that retweets from that user will no longer appear in your timeline. You can toggle this option on and off using this button.
What Twitter Hopes to Accomplish
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams wrote recently that he hopes the new retweet feature will solve the problems of attribution confusion, messy or broken messages, and will reduce timeline noise. Williams said that the new retweet feature should “make Twitter a more powerful system for helping people find out what’s happening now that they care about.”If embraced by users and third-party Twitter clients, there is almost no way to imagine that wouldn’t be the case. However, the inability to add comments to retweets is an issue that Twitter may need to address, especially to appeal to the power users who often shape the use of the platform and evangelize it to others.
What do you think of Twitter’s new retweet feature so far? Let us know in the comments.