When Twitter first started out it was a pretty barebones way of communicating but it was just the perfect thing at the perfect time and it took off. For the most part the developers of Twitter have had a hands off policy when it comes to how the platform is used preferring to stick with just the simple 140 character post and reply. However an interesting thing started to happen within the Twitter ecosphere – the people using it started coming up with unique ways to prioritize or identify messages.
The first one to come along was the use of the ‘@’ symbol in front of a user’s name to let them know that the message was being directed to them. In very short order this @<username> (in my case it would be @stevenhodson) began to spread even beyond Twitter becoming an almost de facto address. It showed up on business cards, sometimes being the only thing on the business card, it could be found on tee shirts or any number of other items.
Then came hashtags which came out of a conversation between Chris Messina and Stowe Boyd as a way to create a conversation identifier so that when you searched Twitter for that hashtag you would be able to see all the tweets that were a part of the conversation. The only problem was that this quickly became abused and for the most part useless.
After that we suddenly started to see people retweeting other people tweets as a way to share something they thought was cool, important or just needed to be shared. The format for this retweeting was typically along these lines RT: @<original poster username> <original tweet> [if enough room your added comment to the tweet]
Pretty simple right?
Simple enough that ReTweeting has taken on a life of its own much like the original @<username> reply. It is being suggested that much like we have Google’s PageRank to place a value on a particular site ReTweeting could provide the same kind of idea within Social Media. The problem is that Twitter wants to change how retweets are handled and it has more than a few people upset because will break a perfectly good working syntax that has potential beyond just Twitter.
One person in particular who is upset over the proposed changes is Dan Zarrella who has done a lot of analytical work with Twitter and ReTweets. Now I may not always agree with Dan and have been vocal about my disagreements on more than one occasion but in this case I’m in agreement with him when he suggests that these changes proposed by Twitter will destroy the value of the ReTweet system.
Twitter plans to add a button to the Twitter web client that says “Retweet” that will allow you to send the same exact Tweet, with no editing, to your followers. Your followers will see the original poster’s avatar and name, even if they’re not following them, and the only indication they’ll see that it is a ReTweet will be a small line of light gray text underneath it.
I follow people because I trust and enjoy their point of view, I don’t nessecarily trust the POV of people I don’t follow, so using the original poster’s picture and name in my timeline destroys any social proof the ReTweeter may have lent the Tweet.
Most active Twitter users use third party desktop and mobile clients to Tweet, and there is no way of telling how those developers will indicate ReTweets in this new format just yet. The Tweets will not contain the “RT @username” prefix. There will no longer be a commonly understood format. Scanning my friend’s timeline is how I use Twitter, and I suspect how many of you do too. The new ReTweet format will make that much harder.
Stowe Boyd isn’t overly impressed with the proposed changes either as he worries that the way Twitter wants to implement their version of ReTweeting will cause un-needed confusion.
At any rate, this is the rub: if Twitter takes away our ability to comment on the retweets, people will start running around outside the implementation to get back the capabilities that have been taken away.
When the company behind a platform decides to take a user convention, like ‘RT’ and implement it as part of the infrastructure it is pulled from the ultrastucture, where the users live and invent. If the implementation doesn’t fit the contours of use that have become convention then there is a misfit. This misfit could be a gap, where less than the convention has been implemented. And a gap like that leads to a thunderclap, just like the vacuum caused by a lightning bolt creates a vacuum in the sky, and the surrounding air moves in to fill it.
Even Jennifer Van Grove at Mashable isn’t sure that this is something Twitter should even be concerned with
The existence of Project Retweet — ie. formalized retweeting — essentially implies that Twitter felt that current retweeting practices need repairing. But were retweets ever really broken?
Granted the four APIs will bring significant additional functionality around retweets, features we’ve never been privy to before, but is it at a cost that takes away some of the intended purpose behind retweets? Eliminating retweet redundancy, adding retweet filters, these are all good, but we’re not entirely convinced we needed a new retweet format.
Personally I don’t think there is any need whatsoever for Twitter to fix something that isn’t broken. In fact it is a community created solution that is better and cleaner than anything I have seen Twitter propose. I wonder if this is more a case of a company not wanting to lose anymore control over their creation than they already have.