dean.co

To retweet or not to retweet

Yesterday I launched Hahlo 4.1 and one of the changes was the switch from to old-style ‘RT’ retweets over to the new twitter retweet api. Unfortunately this seems to have upset a few people, not necessarily because I’ve added support for the new api but because I chose not to maintain the old-style RTs as well. This is a tale of why.

rtgoodvevil

Keep in mind this falls into the category of “people can use twitter however the hell they want”, you’re allowed to disagree, just don’t be a knob about it.

The Hahlo side of the things

Hahlo is about moving forward, not backwards, if I were not interested in keeping up with the new feature additions to twitter (and the api) then Hahlo probably wouldn’t still be in active development. Also maintaining two different methods for retweeting means more work on my side making sure they both continue working, having an ‘RT’ button which performs different functions for different people is not only illogical, but would very quickly become a pain to support. Also, please remember I don’t get paid anything to work on or support Hahlo, I do that because I’m a nice guy.

The twitter side of things

Those who’ve used Hahlo will see that I’ve tried to match the same ‘flow’ as on twitter.com. For example, you click ‘retweet’ and you’re asked to confirm that you’d like to retweet this tweet to your followers. Not everyone likes the new-style retweets, but then not everyone like change. But changes happens, deal with it.

Evan Williams wrote a great post on why retweets work the way that they work on twitter.com, if you haven’t read it I strongly suggest you do.

The “retweets annoy me” side of things

There is a reason I never added retweets to Hahlo prior to version 4, I don’t (or didn’t to be more precise) like them. And then when I did add them, I also added an ‘hide all retweets’ option. This is why, and if you disagree (likely) I’d like to hear (constructively) why that is. Lets try a common example to illustrate my point.

Lets say I follow ‘Joe Smith’, ‘Tom Johnson’, ‘Harry Williams’ and the company they work for ‘Globoawesome Solutions’.

‘Globoawesome Solutions’ tweets:

globoawesome: Check this out, we just won an award http://bit.ly/weareawesome

I see this tweet because I follow ‘Globoawesome Solutions’. This is fine.

Because Joe, Tom and Harry love the company they work for, and are proud that they won an award so they retweet the original tweet.

joeman77: RT @globoawesome Check this out, we just won an award http://bit.ly/weareawesome

tomlovesdogs: Check this out, we just won an award http://bit.ly/weareawesome (via @globoawesome)

harrywho: Oh man we’re fully awesome. RT @globoawesome Check this out, we just won an award http://bit.ly/weareawesome

Now, because I also follow Joe, Tom and Harry I also see these three tweets. This is not fine. This is a pain. To be clear I would not have problem (or not as big a one) if they had each tweeted the link with their own thoughts eg.

tomlovesdogs: My employers Globoawesome Solutions just won an award, check it out -> http://bit.ly/weareawesome

This scenario is annoying because it really happens.

This is the first reason that the “new-style” retweets are better, because if Joe, Tom and Harry all retweet the original tweet I don’t have to see it another 3 times.

A similar problem arises when you follow two or three (or more) people who seem to endless retweet each other so much you begin to wonder if they’re the same person.

My understanding of how the new retweets behave better in this situation, and when they’ll appear in your timelines.

  • If you follow ‘User A’ and ‘User B’, and ‘User A’ retweets ‘User B’ you WON’T see the retweet because you’ll see the original.
  • If you follow ‘User A’ but NOT ‘User B’, and ‘User A’ retweets ‘User B’ you will see the retweet unless you’ve blocked retweets from ‘User A’.

Annoyance number two.

We only get 140 characters to play with. If I tweet something and its 138 characters long, the person X retweets it in the old-style then they have to shorten/edit/change my original tweet, potentially changing its meaning/intention/purpose. How times have you seen something like this:

captnawesome: RT @foobar RT @jellydonuts We’ve got a super special on awesome jelly donuts happening right now, pls RT (via @donutman65) (via @steve)

There’s a high chance there could have a been a link pointing to said jelly donuts in the original tweet, but you’d never know now that it has little to no context remaining (apart from that we now know that captnawesome, fooba and steve all like jelly donuts - and/or spam)

Third times a charm

Until recently twitter was ‘asking’ “What are you doing?” (they’ve now changed it to a slightly more generic “What’s happening?”). The point is, that it was what are YOU doing, not “What is the linux fanboy you follow doing?”. If I really want to know what the linux fanboy is doing, I’ll follow them.

Old-style retweets are the spam/telemarketers of the twittersphere

Every time you add something like “pls RT or kittens will die” (or something to that effect) real kittens actually die, seriously, they’re dead. I don’t really care how awesome you think you’re new flash game is, don’t ask people to spam their followers by retweeting your dribble. Even charities, who are arguably the only groups that should be allowed to ask for an RT in the first place, shouldn’t do it. If awareness for the charity is deserved then people will likely tweet about it anyway, without you begging them to.

I hang up on telemarketers. I also block people who post endless amounts of crap to twitter, this is crap that they usually retweet from elsewhere. I’ve also started block (and report as spam) people who send direct message spam, or “thanks for following” messages to me after I’ve followed them because they were already following me, but thats another argument altogether.

RT via cc goo goo ga ga

There was a discussion a while back about the difference between ‘RT’ and ‘via’ two of most commonly used old-style retweeting syntax, I think it was @maxvoltar but can’t remember for sure (feel free to correct me). The conclusion was something like this:

  • RT = word-for-word copy of someone else’s tweet
  • via = usually a link or thought from someone else but as part of your tweet

Think of it this way. RT = plagiarism. via = referenced source material.

But, but, but, I want to add a comment to my RT

Then its not a retweet. It’s a tweet mentioning something someone else already tweeted.

Maybe if twitter fixed replies then people could just @reply to the tweet they wanted to comment on, this would keep context, keep it in the conversation chain, and still allow only those who actually wanted to see your additional witty comment to see it. (Remember you used to have the option to see all the @replies/mentions that those you follow posted instead of just the ones directed at other people you already follow).

But I can’t pad out my tweet count if I have to think of them all myself

I strongly believe there are people out there who were retweeting like crazy just to pad out their total tweet count, almost as if it was going to make them more important or something. From what I can tell the new retweets don’t count towards your tweet count, which is great. What will be even great is when a ‘retweet counter’ is added, because I’m sure we’re going to spot a few people who retweet more than they actually tweet themselves.

Of course, then we just have to work out what to do about people who feel the need to post every flicker photo, delicious bookmark, blog post, aim status change and bowel movement to twitter. Their time will come.

Conclusion

Old-style = Bad. New-style = Good.

Change within the twittersphere is good, just think, without change you would not have @mentions, #hashtags, lists, search, saved searches, geolocation or just about any of the other cool things that you now take for granted.