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Is the new retweet the end of angry Twitter mobs?

November 22, 2009 18 Comments

I've really begun to loathe Twitter's new retweet function. The main reason is that there might be 00s of people you follow retweeting something furiously - and you'd have no idea ...

Retweets go invisible

New retweet: who's this guy?

New retweet: who's this guy?

Look at the screenshot. At the time I was looking at Twitter, two people have retweeted saltyshutter's tweet.

You won't see it again

Now imagine that, in half an hour, somebody else retweets it.

To avoid retweet overload, Twitter won't show me that retweet again. It assumes that I've taken in the original retweet (I might have seen it and not taken it in, but that's my tough luck). If I went back through the timeline and found the retweet from half an hour ago, it would have updated to show that another person had retweeted it. But who is going to do that?

Now, imagine that some sort of massive Twitter row kicks off. Maybe 100 people you follow retweet something. You don't see any of these retweets. That's right - because you saw the initial retweet early on, Twitter assumes you're not interested.

You could go back and look at the original retweet, and it would now update to show that 100 people have retweeted it. But in practice, you won't. What's more, the chances of 100 people retweeting something are diminished - because they, in turn, won't realise that other people are retweeting.

The end of Twitter campaigns?

What could have blown up into a full-blown Twitter campaign will die a damp-squid-like death as everyone assumes that no one else is interested.

Now, it can be annoying to see the same tweet retweeted by several different people. But not as annoying as discovering that you've missed something interesting because Twitter has decided not to tell you that lots and lots of people you follow are retweeting it ...

The question is, would the Jan Moir backlash have got off the ground if new RT had been around then? If people didn't realise how much everyone else was angry, the whole thing might have died out ...

Some other reasons I don't like the new retweet

Who's this guy?

Who is Saltyshutter, and why's his picture there? Turns out someone I follow has retweeted him. But I'm not following saltyshutter - and I'm getting fed up with seeing strangers' pictures in my list of tweets.

Because I don't recognise them, the pictures jar and so I end up staring at them. Which means I end up paying more attention to the tweets of people I haven't chosen to follow than those I have.

(The flip side of this is that, when I'm retweeted, my avatar ends up in other people's stream of tweets. This does not make up for the issue, however).

Who else retweeted

Why does it say XX and one other person retweeted this. Who are the other people? I want to know, but this is not clickable ...

I want to comment

When I retweet, I like to comment. The new feature doesn't stop me doing that, obviously. But it would have been quite easy to build this ability in. It's annoying they haven't.

What's with the new menu options that make no sense?

New retweet menu

New retweet menu

Over in the right hand side of the web interface is a bit that says 'Retweets'. When you click it, you see three options. 'Retweets by you' I get - things I have retweeted. 'Your tweets, retweeted' I get - other people who have retweeted me. But what the hell is the first option: 'Retweets by others'? I literally cannot work out what this is for ... It's currently empty which isn't helping ...

This highlights another problem. You used to be able to click your name in the web interface and see any messages to you and any RTs of your tweets in one go. Now you have to go to two separate places to see these things.

To sum up ...

Yes, I know I can still RT the old manual way. But this doesn't stop other people using the new system. And when they do, they take away some of the functionality I want from twitter - like a one-click list of stuff about me, and knowing who is retweeting what.

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  • Squid are, of necessity, damp. Squibs, on the other hand, like Twitter campaigns, need to be dry in order to explode.

    I'm just saying...

  • Yoshimi says:

    A couple of other points, one is that you still can't see new style RT's in third paty clients, so you're losing a load of visibility that way. Secondly, @pageoneresults @seomofo & I did some testing on Friday and it turns out that you will still see RT's of people you have blocked. So not only are you getting other peoples avatars in your timeline, you get to see the avatars of people you have requested not to see.

  • jalada says:

    When Twitter were testing the new RT system, you _could_ click the 'and 1 other' and see who. But then they changed the whole system (and API, which also told you this). Maybe it didn't scale or something?

  • Thanks for writing this, you sum up many of my own concerns with the new retweet function. I wasn't initially so concerned about the campaign aspect, but taking away the info on who is doing the retweeeting goes against the way the social web works. It's all about recommendations from people you trust, and I'm more likely to click on a link if I see it is retweeted by a friend, someone whose judgement I appreciate etc than if it's just some new person showing up in my tweetstream all of a sudden without my doing. Also, Twitter is a stream I dip in and out of, I've long since given up on reading everything, so I am going to miss a lot of good links with the new retweet function.

  • Matt Thomas says:


    How dya think I feel seeing my face appearing in my tweets all the time. I guess it's no longer just me who bares this cross.

    - Saltyshutter

  • The retweets by others section is where it shows retweets by people you follow of tweets by anyone other than you.

    I think the whole feature is another badly thought out change in functionality that will diminish the usefulness of the Twitter system in much the same way as the change in showing @replies did, possibly even more.

    I very rarely even look at the web interface, so anyone using that to retweet will go completely unnoticed by me, and probably many others. I wonder how long it will take them to feel like their retweets are being ignored?

  • David - Ah. Still odd that it's empty for me? Maybe no one using it at all?!?

  • Robin Brown says:

    Ha! Poor Matt, and it was all my fault! This is, I think, the only time I've used the awful new RT function - I prefer to do it manually and add my own comment if retweeting - and this shows why it's so hopeless.

    I noticed Emma Forbes in my stream the other day, I don't follow Emma Forbes. It took me a couple of minutes to work out exactly why; a tweet devoid of context and explanation is pretty hopeless and I suspect this new function with lead to a lot of pointless, de-contextualised RTing - and where's the value in that?

    • Yes, most people seem to prefer commenting (who I follow anyway!).

      I see quite a few tweets from people saying 'well just don't use it if you don't like it'.

      But I think they're missing the point that if person A new-RTs something, then I won't see that person B, C, D ... and ZZ has new-RTed it later.

      So it's not just a matter of me not using it. It's the fact that other people influence which (re)tweets by third parties that you see.

  • Robin Brown says:

    Oh man, this gravatar situation is getting ridiculous.

  • Ciarán says:

    I agree with all of your points (some of which hadn't even occurred to me). The one thing I would say is that our research suggested that less than 50% of people are using the web interface anymore, so if that continues, you'd hope it won't have the impact you discuss.

    • Ciaran - sure. Of course, those using clients can't see the RTs as I pointed out at the beginning of the retweet beta. This makes the problem go away I guess ...
      Of course, it also makes the trial a bit stupid as who would use the new RT once they realise half their followers, on your figures, can't see what they've RTed?

  • minifig says:

    I appear to be a member of an ever-shrinking group that rather likes the new retweeting function. I like the fact that tweets can be shared around the place containing their original context. I take the point about not being able to comment, but previously it could be extremely difficult to tell what was quoted tweet, and what was new comment. I like that with the new retweets I know that it's come to me unchanged.

    Therefore, if you do want to add something yourself, or change the wording, or whatever, why not use the other (via @someoneorother) style of retweeting (what Tweetie calls 'quote tweet'). It means that both forms are useful and things are a little clearer. Of course it only works if everyone starts doing it...

    • Minifig - those are pluses, I agree. And as you say, people who want to comment can still do so. The annoying thing is that they could have made it easier to comment but didn't (when I copy and paste via web interface, I have to strip out several spaces and returns, so the whole thing is a bit of a pain).

      If this was all they'd got wrong (and assuming issues like people with clients not seeing new RTs, and RTs from people you've blocked being visible etc etc are all short term (ahem - I think they're approaching medium term now ...)) there probably wouldn't be much of a problem.

      However, I think this issue that you're prevented from seeing other RTs IS a big problem. I may not have explained it all that well.

      Let's imagine somebody does something illiberal. Stephen Fry tweets "X has done Y. Get your pitchfork and flaming brand". I don't follow Stephen, but someone I follow - let's call them Z - new-RTs it almost immediately and I see it.

      Is this going to turn into the new Trafigura / Jan Moir? And if it did, how would I know? I leave my computer, and 5 minutes later the Z's RT of Stephen Fry's tweet has vanished down my timeline and out of sight.

      Now, imagine X doing Y is so awful that 200 people I follow new-RT Stephen Fry's original tweet.

      I don't see any of those RTs. In some ways this is good - what a mess my timeline would be ... On the other hand, I have no way of knowing that this is going on. If I looked back at Z's RT of Stephen Fry (EG I scrolled back and back through time, or I opened the tweet via its permalink) it would now say 'retweeted by Z and 200 others'.

      But under the current new-RT system, that's the only way I've got of knowing that 200 people I follow have new RTed something.

      Even worse, I could have missed properly seeing / taking in Z's retweet (maybe when I loaded the webpage it was at the bottom and I got distracted by something at the top and so didn't read the last few tweets on the page), in which case I'd never know.

      Or I might think Z is a bit of an idiot, and so not give credence to his RTs. Q on the other hand, I do respect - but I can't see the fact that he has new-RTed Stephen Fry because Twitter has hidden this from me.

      Right, is that any clearer to anyone?!?

      • minifig says:

        I get that part of your post, I guess it's just something that doesn't strike fear into my heart. I get why it *might* mitigate against a new Trafigura, but a lot of the traffic on that day was made up of things other than retweets, as is the case in most of the pitchfork-bearing-angry-twitter-mob situations we've had so far.

        A solution would be for the retweet to reappear in your timeline each time someone retweets it, as it does now, but each time with an update on the number of people doing it. I presume that Twitter tried this, though, and I guess they decided not to go for it because although it might confusing to have a tweet from someone you don't follow in your timeline, it'll be even more confusing if that tweet just won't go away, and keeps reappearing.

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