Those Twitter guys have been busy recently, hot on the heels of the recent Twitter Lists feature, we’ve now got a Twitter Retweet Button being rolled out. Ever since the user-led inception of retweeting (reposting other people’s tweets) on Twitter, there has been a call for a designated button to avoid the hassle of copy and pasting every time you wanted to share something interesting. Finally, that call has been answered, well, kind of.
A couple of days ago, Twitter started to roll out an automated retweet (RT) button across some accounts. It’s still in beta so you might not be able to see it yet, but tweeters who can have mixed feelings. One one hand, it does make the retweeting process a lot easier, on the other there are some disadvantages to it which I’ll discuss later. First here’s an overview.
What Is It And How Does It Work?
The new button appears next to the regular reply button when you hover your cursor over a tweet. Simply click it and a dialogue box appears asking if you want to retweet this to your followers. Click yes, and it will immediately be posted to your followers. It will not appear on the main Twitter home page displaying all recent updates though, and it doesn’t feed through to external services such as Facebook, similar to the way @replies only appear to people who are subscribed to both parties.
You will also see RTs from friends, but they will no longer be preceded by RT, instead you’ll see an icon at the start of the tweet.
The RT button appears on both your home page and profile pages, but at the moment, not on list pages. Hopefully this will change because logically the people you’ve added to lists are those you are most interested in.
In addition to the RT button, there is also a new section in your sidebar along with your @replies and favourites listing all your RTs, your friends RTs and any of your tweets which have been retweeted.
If you find some of your followers are a little RT happy – some people do seem to share almost everything that appears on their home page – then you can opt not to see RTs from them using a button on their profile page. Just click the little green button, and those pesky tweets will be banished from your feed. Don’t worry, I’m still keeping up with that guy, whoever he is! 😉
So that’s what it does. The good news is it is very easy to use, and it is handy to have a separate section handling retweets because there are times when standard replies get lost in a sea of them; this makes it much easier to keep up. However, there is some bad news.
What’s Wrong With Twitter’s Retweet System?
First, the limitations on who can see a tweet, and more specifically how a user can broadcast them (ie: not sharing with Facebook) is a step back. Social media has become ever more interconnected over the last couple of years so it seems odd that a now mainstream function has been effectively taken away.
Next, not all RTs are visible to the person who originally posted the tweet. If someone outside their network reposts their tweet, they might not see it. (Some RTs from people within a network have also failed to appear, but this may be a bug.) Once again, this seems like a step back. Twitter was built on communication and sociability, most people like to say thank you to those who share their tweets, now they won’t always be able to. I can understand that some people did abuse the existing system to draw attention to themselves, but it is unfair to penalise everyone because of the actions of a few. We already have the option to block the obviously spammy, so I think this is overkill.
Finally, the most controversial change: using the built-in RT button means your tweet appears instantly, and you don’t have any chance to edit it or add commentary. This is a shame because most people do like to add a few words to explain why they’re sharing something, or express an opinion on it. Once again, removing this option makes Twitter less sociable; all RTs appear verbatim making it less likely a conversation will ensue.
If you still want to be able to add more to a tweet before you share it you’ll need to post it manually, possibly adding something like ‘via @username’ to the end of the tweet. This would also get around the problem of tweets not being published to other networks.
Automated retweeting is long overdue, and the addition of a simple button would have been more than enough for most people. However, the way it has been implemented has, in a sense, destroyed the whole ethos of retweeting by removing the aspects that turned the reposting of information into the beginning of a conversation. In a sense, Twitter have tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. The new system is still in beta, so what we have now may not be the definitive version, but if you’re particularly unhappy about the way it works make use of the feedback link in your sidebar to share your thoughts with the Twitter developers.