Twitter's New Retweet Feature Is Not the Apocalypse

Hey, have you heard? Twitter is changing its Retweet feature, and everyone is complaining about it. Hubspot's Dan Zarella says the feature "could completely eviscerate most of the value out of Retweets." PC Mag's Lance Ulanoff calls it "frightening dictatorial." And fired-up users are tweeting their frustrations en masse, tagging each missive with "SaveRetweets."

So what's changed, exactly? According to Evan Williams:

The [new] design is simple: There's a retweet link by each tweet and, with two clicks, it will be sent on to your followers. The meta data (about who tweeted and who retweeted) is not in the tweet text itself, so they never have to be edited for length. And ... you will only get the first copy of something retweeted multiple times by people you follow.


Having used Twitter's new Retweet feature, I can assure you that it's nowhere near as apocalyptic as some bloggers make it seem; it's actually pretty ingenious. And bless his verbose heart, Williams just posted a 6,500-character defense—on his blog, not his Twitter feed—that deftly addresses the three main user gripes. We've summed them up in fewer words (but significantly more than 140 character) here:


But Evan, there was nothing wrong with the old Retweeting system!

Because organically retweeted tweets can be edited, even if the original author is properly understood as the author, it's not necessarily for what they really said. Inaccurate attribution is possible in any medium. But in Twitter, because of the character limit, it's often necessary. People shorten and edit retweeted tweets to make them fit along with the extra metadata. Even when for legit purposes, that can be misleading and unfair to the author. Worse, RTs can actually be easily faked, which has become a form of spam, wherein well-known people are shown to be promoting something they never twittered about.
[Also,] if five people you follow retweet the same thing, you get five copies, which can be useful but it a lot of noise. This comes up even more in search. Popular users can get retweeted enough to saturate a search query. Coincidentally, as I'm writing this I came across this:
drandakis @ev I need a filter than removes multiple RTs of the same tweet. Can't stand it anymore...


But Evan, I don't want strange avatars popping up in my Twitter feed!

You're already reading the content from these people via organic retweets. This is just giving you more context. My experience is that you get used to this pretty quickly, and it's a welcome way to mix things up. If you find someone constantly throwing people in there you don't like, as mentioned before, you can turn off Retweets from them (while still following their non-retweets). And if you really don't like it, and you only want to see what people you follow wrote themselves, you can turn off Retweets for everyone you follow (individually). Organic RTs do not offer nearly this flexibility.


But Evan, I want to be able to edit my Retweets!

We left [that function] out of this first version mostly for simplicity. It's especially tricky when you consider transports like SMS where adding a lot of structure or additional content is hard. But we have some ideas there, and it's possible we'll build that in at a later date. (This point should not be missed.)
What about those cases where you really want to add a comment when RTing something? Keep in mind, there's nothing stopping you from simply quoting another tweet if that's what you want to do. Also, old-school retweets are still allowed, as well. We had to prioritize some use cases over others in this release. But just as Twitter didn't have this functionality at all before, people can still work around and do whatever they want. This just gives another option.

[Images via Twitter]

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  • PJ

    Nothing is apocalypse, but this crap from twitters side still sucks, and the "But Evan, I don't want strange avatars popping up in my Twitter feed!" is a problem, and the excuses given are utter crap. I don't a bunch of strangers in my feed - and that evan is apparently to much of a retard to understand it. And now all twitter clients seem to use the stupid system!

  • George Foreman

    I was just lately introduced to twitter, so it's just more information for me to digest.
    Nice post, thanks for sharing.

  • Ebun Omoni

    @Rian, you've touched on a good point.

    A lot of people don't access twitter through and so this RT functionality will have limited exposure if they don't allow time for 3rd party clients and services to update their software.

  • Corvida Raven

    @Tina Not everyone can get credit and sometimes you don't get the story from the original person. Sometimes people would rather credit who gave them the story, not always who created it.

    I'm not looking forward to this system and probably won't use it very often unless Twitter forces retweets to automatically be pulled in. I like the manual way and I don't feel like Twitter is listening to what the community has to say about the way they're implementing it.

  • Tina Brooks

    I actually like that the new RT feature will eliminate RTs that the spammers are using. I've blocked more than one user for pretending to RT something that I'd said. Also, it will eliminate accidental mis-retweets where the original tweeter doesn't get credit for the tweet; and they always should.

  • Rian Merwe

    I think the biggest issue with the Twitter RT system hasn't been addressed - how will 3rd party apps handle it? Will I be able to see in Tweetdeck or Tweetie who was RT'ed? RT's are one of the best ways to find new people to follow, and so much of Twitter's traffic happen outside of their web site,

  • Kate Vickers

    I don't have any problems with the new Twitter RT system. I think that your explanation of why some people are annoyed about it was great though. I definitely agree with Twitter that 'RT spam' is a problem. We've had this happen to us a few times and it's very irksome. By the way, where is Fast Company's Retweet button? I think that your site really needs to add that feature.