Like Me? Follow Me.
Google Trends shows the word "retweet" first appearing in the News index in April 2008. It describes a process that SEO blog readers are no doubt familiar with - the ad hoc manner a Twitter user would take a tweet by another user and republish it for their followers. Retweeting has turned Twitter from being a vanity service into being a useful news source. It cements the reputations of prolific and knowledgeable Twitter users and exposes the lack of original content in lesser accounts.
Reinventing the Retweet
Yesterday morning I found I'd been included in the beta rollout of the new Twitter retweeting function:
No longer would I have to copy paste a whole message, type my RT at the front, edit the content down to 140 characters, rewrite the wording to fit in a hashtag, I can just press a nice little "retweet" button:
Once clicked, it asks for confirmation that I want all my followers to see the message. Click again and then the message disappears and so does the retweet.
Your retweet does not appear in your twitter / home feed like normal tweets. Instead, there is a completely new subpage similar to the Direct Messages page. This has three subheaders with "Retweets by others", "Retweets by you" and "Your tweets, retweeted" and it looks like this:
The way into this service is also similar to the Direct Messages section as it is right below it.
Ok, so what does this actually mean to users? Firstly, it is great to see that Twitter has decided to adopt a functionality that users have organically created on their service - albeit 19 months after the term appeared in mainstream media.
The retweet has become standard currency in the Twitter world. You see something you like, you hashtag it, you reiterate it; you add your own comment and you pass it back into the fray.
However, this is not the way Twitter CEO Evan Williams wants it to happen. He explains in his blog that the service needed "a more powerful system for helping people find out what's happening now that they care about." The Twitter business plans that leaked to Techcrunch, mentioned that the company were aware that the retweet could have legal ramifications in instances where you appear to be quoting another user but your tweet is infinitely editable.
Pulling retweets out of the time line does clear a lot of noise. I follow some comedians and have friends who are comedy fans on my Twitter. If I read a joke, re-reading it later in 3 retweets does not add anything to my Twitter experience. However, is this a small price to pay for the lack of new content discovery? If a friend tweets something particularly good, I might be interested in following the original Twitter user. I'm probably not going to follow the retweet stream as closely as I am in the general timeline and so part of the experience will be lost.
One positive aspect is that it makes the retweeting process a whole lot quicker! As Mashable observe, the one-click approval makes this version of retweeting a whole lot more like the Facebook "like" button. Whether it stands or falls is likely to be a matter of how well it integrates with the many platforms that use the Twitter API. Twitter's portability is one of the major reasons for its popularity and if app developers fail to integrate this change elegantly, the users will reject it.
This morning, I've found that the retweet button has been removed from my twitter account so this is clearly a work in progress. If anyone else has experience of the service please feel free to comment below. I'd be interested to see if it's coming and going as regularly on other user accounts.