Some thoughts on Twitters new ReTweet feature

Articles,Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 9:57 am
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This morning I woke up to find this on my Twitter homepage:

Twitter / Home - RETWEET

I was immediately psyched. I’ve been a fan of retweets for a while and one of the main reasons I’ve continued to use TweetDeck despite it’s buggyness is how flawless it handles retweets. And after the awesome launch of ‘lists’ I instantly assumed Twitter was on a roll of bad ass feature launch-i-tude.

And then I saw it in action. (cue sad trombone)

This was not my beautiful house. This was not my beautiful wife. This was not my beautiful retweet.

I tried to give Twitter the benefit of the doubt and see if perhaps they had a better version of it. I used it several times myself and paid attention to how other people were using it. But I didn’t get used to it and as the day went on I got more and more bummed out by it. I kept thinking about what to say in the post I wanted to write about it but before I got a chance to write anything someone directed me to this post by Ev explaining why they did some of what they did and the problems they were trying to solve. It’s definitely worth reading – I assumed a lot of thought must have gone into some of the choices they made and this post confirms that – I just don’t agree.

Now before someone else points it out let me be the first to say that I hated when Twitter revamped replies but after using it a bit I was convinced it was in fact a better way of doing things. Maybe because I don’t like to think I’m going to be wrong, but I don’t see this being a similar situation that would allow me to flip flop.

That said, Ev gives detailed reasoning for why they implemented retweet the way they did in his post. He points out problems, that I agree exist, and how this version of retweet will work to fix them. I just don’t think many of those reasons are valid. To some extent I think their decisions were a bit reactionary – addressing something that some people were complaining about. Unfortunately I think it was a small number of people complaining and a large number of people who didn’t have a problem, but the fix changed that -making the small number happy and upsetting a larger group that had previously been silent on the matter. That is just what I think from scanning my twitter stream and some searches thoughout the day but admittedly I could be completely wrong as it’s just a guess.

So what are my issues. I have a few.

(Just to make things clear I’ll use OldRetweet when talking about how retweets have been handled up until now, and NewRetweet when referring to Twitter’s implementation.)

The biggest problem I have is the issue with the avatars. Oddly enough this is the issue that is brushed over the quickest in Ev’s post. With OldRetweets I’d see the avatar of the person I was following, with NewRetweets I see the avatar of the person who originally posted the tweet.

This change was made to address the problem with attribution in retweets. I completely agree this is a problem that needs a solution – especially on something that is getting heavily retweeted. I’ve seen plenty of cases where, due to the 140 character limit, people have had to delete some text in order to retweet something and instead of deleting the name of the person who retweeted it, they delete the name of the person who originally wrote it which makes it seem like someone else wrote it. This is a problem for sure. And like others I’ve had people reply to me thinking I was the author of something I retweeted. Again, no question that this is a problem that needs a solution.

While this solution does solve the attribution problem, there is no question who wrote something anymore, it creates a bunch of new problems which I think outweigh the old one. Here’s what we have now:

New Retweets

Seeing icons and usernames in my stream of people I don’t follow, even with the addition of a little “retweet” icon does not create a richer, fuller experience for me. It instantly makes me assume Twitter is broken and somehow people I don’t follow are showing up in my stream. It’s jarring and uncomfortable. Ev suggests there is no value in having the icon of the person you follow in a retweet but I completely disagree. Seeing the icon of someone I follow, someone I’m familiar with, instantly puts the retweet in context. Is the person regularly sarcastic which might imply the retweet is a joke, is the retweet a link to an article covering a topic this person usually tweets about which would give me an idea of the slant of the article, is the retweet from someone I follow because I respect and trust their opinion or is it a retweet from someone I’m friends with but don’t always agree with or from someone I follow because they constantly opposing my viewpoints and I want to hear their side of the story as well. Seeing the icon of the person I follow tells me a lot about the tweet and why they likely felt the need to retweet it before I ever read it. Seeing the icon of someone I don’t follow, don’t know, and have no context for confuses me.

When I use the search function I’m expecting a results page full of people I don’t know, but as I said in my post about ‘lists’ I think of my main page as my home and I feel like NewRetweet just brought a bunch of uninvited guests in to my living room.

Now certainly those people were being brought in before, but having my friends avatar there was like someone vouching for them right away. Without it they feel like strangers and it’s very uncomfortable. And while there is a credit line to let me know which person I follow is responsible for the retweet, it’s small and stuck at the end after a line I ignore most of the time. I mean really, unless I’m actively wondering at what time someone posted a tweet I never read the “posted XX ago via…” line because I don’t care how many minutes ago or with what client the person used. If something comes up where I need to know it’s helpful, but generally I ignore it. Now I have to either read a retweet and then purposely go read this credit line to think back and put what I just read in context, or I have to train myself that if I see the retweet icon I have to skip to the end to see who retweeted it and then jump back to the front to read it. Both are totally annoying options considering I got the same info before completely passively by seeing the avatar of the person I follow before I read the retweet.

Also, though out the day I found my self wishing I could block retweets from someone. Not a block of any retweets from a person I follow, but a block preventing anyone I follow from showing me retweets of a particular user. What I mean is if I follow Jack, Jill and Sally I don’t want to stop seeing anything they retweet, I just want to stop seeing anytime they retweet something from Tom. This is a new problem because while Jack, Jill and Sally may have been retweeting Tom like crazy before it was easier to ignore. It felt like a friend quoting someone else, where as now it feels like they brought the person along to tell me themselves. It’s much more abrasive.

And while it’s great that there is more control and granularity by allowing me to turn on or off retweets from each and every person I follow that is a lot of work and it’s an all or nothing option which is stressful to make. Sure that last retweet was annoying but if I block them maybe I’ll miss out on something really great tomorrow.

Overall I just think this solution to the attribution problem is a huge mess that made more problems than it solved.

The next issue I have is what Ev calls Redundancies. This would be the issue of several of your friends all retweeting the same thing. I can see where this would be annoying for some people, especially for people who follow a lot of people in the same circle and the echo chamber effect kicks in. Yes Merlin Mann is funny but I don’t need 73 of the people that I follow all retweeting the same clever thing he just tweeted about poop. And it’s even worse is 42 people I follow all retweet something by someone they all think is hilarious and I think is retarded. So again, yes this is a problem but the solution of only letting you see something once causes another problem – when someone you follow retweets something by someone else you follow you never see that retweet.

I tested this specifically 3 times today and it’s definitely the case. This sucks because unfortunately I don’t get to read every single tweet by every single person I follow – sometimes because I’m too busy or sometimes because a buggy 3rd party app drops tweets. Luckily a lot of the people I follow also follow other people I follow and can draw attention to the frequent gems they spit out, and very often I see a great tweet from someone I follow not when they wrote it, but when someone else I follow retweeted it. That no longer happens, and that sucks.

I was really annoyed that you can’t annotate the tweet before it is retweeted but Ev says that is something they will likely be changing very soon so I’ll skip the rant on that and trust they know how important of an option that is.

Those things really bother me, but what bothers me even more is the old way, that while it certainly has it’s problems, is now going to become considerably harder to do. Ev says:

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.

But earlier in the post he says:

In an announcement a few weeks ago to get developers building new RT functionality into their clients, we released some preliminary mockups showing how the new Retweet functionality might work on (I’ve read a couple times today that we’re apparently keeping this feature only for, which is exactly wrong. Most of the clients are working on incorporating it presently.)

This means developers are working on *replacing* the OldRetweet functions they currently have with NewRetweet. Keep in mind that the reason OldRetweet is even in those clients is because so many people were using it and begging for it to be added to the clients. I can’t imagine any of the dominate clients are going to have two options allowing you to choose which style of retweet you want to use. They will simply adopt the method supported by Twitter forcing anyone who wants to do it another way to do it by hand again. This also sucks.

But all this asside I think the biggest issue here, and the thing that bothers me the most, is Twitter has a long history of keeping things simple, watching how people use them, listening to feedback, and implementing a next step which trusts that the users know how they want to use the platform. As someone who works with groups and communities and users all the time I know that the combined efforts of users will figure something out much better and more efficiently than a few people staring at the problem in an office. There is no question that the vast majority of Twitter users have come to agreement on how a retweet should work. This implementation by Twitter feels like they saw that but then said “thanks for coming up with that feature, but you are wrong and here’s the way it should work” and while they have every right to decide how they want to implement everything as a user this doesn’t make me feel very good. Something simple that I really liked was just purposefully made different and more difficult.



  1. agree on all points, Sean. I do not like seeing avatars of people i do not choose to follow appearing in my stream. This was a poor decision at twitter, it creates a feed that i didn’t choose to build. Which brings me to the meat of my comment: Twitter re-vamped something that was fully completely created by it’s users (mostly the early adapters). The entire feature itself was built upon the implicit need by users to share information within the platform. There were no boundaries, so people created their own. The incredible part about twitter is, this is how it grew, it became so maleable for so many of its users, and only the apps drew lines in the sand around features. I don’t want twitter to clean up the retweet process (which they didn’t create) but to instead fix that messy backend. Been fail-whaling since the list rollout. fix twitter, not the features that don’t exist. Now they have two new features to manage, plus all the same problems as before.

    or maybe i just need coffee.

    Comment by corey — November 11, 2009 @ 1:08 pm
  2. drat, i forgot one thing in my comment: the meat of web2.0 is option. as a “web2.0” tool or at least one that was built in this epoch of the digital era, is in the opt-in. Choices. Feeds are great because you create and opt and choose. the retweet feature removes choice from my twitter stream, i have to re-adjust all my previous choices and make even MORE decisions about how to use what may actually be the most simple platform to emerge in quite some time. i do need coffee, but i also do think twitter is not keeping it simple. they are forcing me to make new choices about the choices i already made and felt confident about.

    Comment by corey — November 11, 2009 @ 1:11 pm
  3. They could make the avatar issue a bit better by showing a smaller avatar of the retweeter overlaying the avatar of the original tweeter – the way they do for replies on Twitter search..

    Comment by Ram Singh — November 11, 2009 @ 3:46 pm
  4. This morning @electromute used retweet function to retweet a guy saying he thought he was pregnant.

    Her mom read it. The UI is not at all obvious in situations like that… looks like she said it.

    Can’t wait for more weird stuff to happen…

    Comment by Andrew Hyde — November 11, 2009 @ 10:01 pm
  5. Very good points that I hadn’t thought about — and I agree. For example, Laughing Squid referenced your post. I read it because I respect their opinion. (They didn’t retweet – but I took the time to go to your site because of them.) Thanks.
    Just one request? Please don’t use “retarded” as a derogatory term, I’ve worked with some wonderful people and an organization who helps them get suitable paying employment and life skills. It’s a pleasure and a gift to know them. Thank you for your consideration of this.

    Comment by Summer — November 11, 2009 @ 10:02 pm
  6. links for 2009-11-11 mentioned this Article on

    Pingback by links for 2009-11-11 — November 11, 2009 @ 10:02 pm
  7. Excellent points. I’d like to add one more: the huge problem that you can no longer provide your own commentary on retweets. Fine and dandy for about 50% of my retweets, which are just to pass something along, but I often find that I have commentary or at least a reaction to add. Losing that ability makes me feel so much more like a passive, helpless consumer rather than someone who is engaging, albeit with only a few words, in a larger dialogue. Perhaps worse, it encourages mindless retweeting, which has the dangerous potential of turning Twitter into the mainstream media an echo chamber with little original thought.

    Comment by Christina Xu — November 11, 2009 @ 10:04 pm
  8. @Christina Xu – I mentioned that and so did Ev in his post actually, it’s something they plan to include and just didn’t get done in time for this launch so I didn’t spend much time talking how they should implement something they are saying straight out that they are planning to implement.

    Comment by Sean Bonner — November 11, 2009 @ 10:07 pm
  9. I still use the OLD RT way. I hate this new function. Not being able to add your own commentary and seeing other people’s RTs is annoying.

    Comment by woot — November 11, 2009 @ 11:33 pm
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  13. Yahoo! Meme does “re-posting” very nicely. Check it out if you haven’t.

    Comment by Cody Simms — November 12, 2009 @ 2:11 pm
  14. I totally agree – I had the new RT feature for a few hours yesterday and it jarred me to see icons of people I don’t follow in my stream. I pay more/less attention to a RT because of whom, among the people I FOLLOW, is passing along the information – NOT who is the owner of the original Tweet.

    Comment by Sara Rosso — November 12, 2009 @ 3:39 pm
  15. Hi,
    great article.

    Bear in mind that it is a fairly trivial task for Twitter clients to put the Avatar of the retweeter in your timeline rather than the source.

    My biggest bug bear is that lack of comment/annotation. I can really see why it’s been done (ie to preserve the integrity) but the comment can be very useful. I can only assume they’ll allow comments via some sort of 2ndry attached tweet.


    Comment by Joel Hughes — November 12, 2009 @ 5:51 pm
  16. Hi Joel- You are mistaken actually, Ev clearly states that comment/annotation was not included only for simplicity of this roll out and it’s absolutely a feature they plan to add.

    Comment by Sean Bonner — November 12, 2009 @ 5:58 pm
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  18. Actually, Sean… Ev was less ‘absolute’ about adding the annotation ability than you make it sound…

    But we have some ideas there, and it’s possible we’ll build that in at a later date.

    Sounds like a maybe to me, which makes me think it’s important to let them know how much we absolutely DO want that ability. But, as Ev said, we can always go back to copy and paste methods…. and they wonder why their site traffic is stagnant… with third party apps allowing us to use Twitter the way we want, their efforts to bring us back to the site are not working. I just hope Seesmic doesn’t get rid of the RT button lol… copy and paste RTs would aggravate me! haha

    Comment by Ginger@Custom Design and Digital Art — November 12, 2009 @ 6:40 pm
  19. Ginger, sure but that backs up statements from others at Twitter that it’s something they are working on. It’s certainly not something they are working against like most of the other changes they made.

    That said, it should be noted that they pulled the ReTweet feature yesterday because of “bugs” – what that means we don’t know but it’s not currently online for anyone so maybe they will make some changes before putting it back in place.

    Comment by Sean Bonner — November 12, 2009 @ 6:47 pm
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  22. Today I discovered that in the new system re-tweets even from people I’ve blocked show up – which is really disconcerting to see their avatar and name. “Wait, didn’t I block you? What are you doing here? Oh, it’s a re-tweet. Shouldn’t that be selected out?” Seems poorly implemented.

    And I agree overall – I think it was a small number of people complaining loudly

    Comment by Lisa — November 18, 2009 @ 6:29 pm
  23. I agree with Lisa. Tonight, someone I previously blocked showed up in my timeline. You’d think Twitter would at least respect previous blocks with their new retweet scheme.

    Comment by Marie Carnes — November 20, 2009 @ 6:05 am
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  25. i’ve been searching around my Twitter account for a while now and see not option to stop these retweets .. is there no way around seeing these unwanted tweets in my profile?

    Comment by creative engine — October 3, 2010 @ 10:55 pm
  26. Hi Sean,

    Thanks for linking me to this post. I hope you don’t mind me resurrecting the comments thread here.

    I’ve been on twitter for about 3.5 years and also went through these changes when they happened. They bothered me a little bit back then, but I grew used to them and changed my behavior to accommodate the changes, to the point where it’s become second nature. For example, I started paying more attention to the subtle line where the attribution of a retweet lives to see which of my friends were responsible for the retweet. Also, Twitter’s UX and visual design has evolved quite a bit since this post was written and I feel that (among a lot of other features/functions) the quality has improved considerably of their RT function presentation across the design points you brought up.

    While initially I too felt like there were “strangers in my living room” when avatars of people I didn’t follow began to show up in my timeline, I now find that I discover people who I want to follow this way. When I go through the backlog of my own profile I can quickly identify those tweets which I’ve used the twitter RT function to post, and if I see a few tweets from someone that I don’t follow, I will usually follow them to see if everything they say is solid gold.

    I’m wondering if your feelings have changed at all similarly, or if you still feel the way you did when you wrote this post.

    Comment by Melissa Anderson — January 6, 2012 @ 1:25 am
  27. No, actually they haven’t changed and a slew of changes from Twitter have pushed me even further away. It used to be very important to me and felt personal but now it’s cold and I don’t think that what I as a user think is at all considered by the Twitter team. So in a way this was kind of the first step away from everything I loved about Twitter. But so it goes…

    Comment by Sean Bonner — January 6, 2012 @ 1:40 am

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