21 November 2009

Hey, Twitter, is that a RT or a like?

The Twitter team has been busy lately, introducing lists and updating them with descriptions and changing their catchphrase to a more social-oriented “What’s happening?”. The latest beta feature to be rolled out to users is the popular Retweet function, although somewhat different from what third-party client offered so far. Earlier this week I also became a member of the beta group receiving this feature, like the welcome message informs us. There must be a lot of NASA fans at the Twitter headquarters! Or could this be the first form of advertising we see on their home page?Twitter beta retweet welcome screen

Twitter new Retweet button The feature is very easy to use: simply click the newly-introduced ‘Retweet’ button and confirm with a “Yes”. Very similar to what Brizzly users get. But the familiar ends here: instead of a new update beginning with RT, your followers will see the original tweet in their timeline, with only a small link at the bottom mentioning you and the other retweeters. If you change your mind, there is no delete, instead Twitter lets you undo” the retweet.

The native implementation has some interesting advantages and you can read more about the original thoughts behind it on the blog of Twitter CEO Evan Williams. A major change laid out in that article is related to the problem of attribution confusion: now, when you reply to these new retweets from your timeline, the reply goes directly to the original author! I think this has the potential to improve the communication on twitter, to help people build more direct relationships. Another nice touch is that it respects the privacy of the people who chose to protect their updates by disabling the retweet button on them. Retweets have also received a dedicated link in the right sidebar, separating them from @-replies.

On the other hand, people are complaining that the new retweets cannot be edited anymore, so if you want to comment you must revert to the old manual method. If you really dislike the feature, Twitter allows you to stop receiving retweets from certain users: go to their profile while being logged in and toggle the green double-arrow button to the center left. Unfortunately, visiting all profiles of the people you follow one by one can be time-consuming, so some users will probably migrate to third-party clients because of this. Twitter disable retweets one user at a time

There are some other technical problems, that should be corrected in the coming weeks: the retweet button is absent both in the list view and if you perform a search. It’s a bit odd that these two new features aren't yet compatible, even in the web interface. What’s even stranger is that I haven’t heard any third-party clients laying out plans to integrate the new RT API. If you recall, the introduction of lists started a fierce competition to see which one delivers them to users first. Right now, if you use the new ‘Retweet’ button, the update doesn’t even appear in your timeline if you later check Brizzly or TwitterGadget.

This new feature is strikingly similar to the ‘like’-button in FriendFeed. The timeline displays updates from the people you explicitly followed, but it doesn't stop at original content, it also collects items they liked or commented on. While this could feel strange to long-time twitter users, it will probably appeal to FriendFeeders in search of a new place to connect while the future of FriendFeed remains uncertain. Unfortunately commenting on Twitter remains restricted to @-replies, so we can only hope the team will find some way of organizing them in the web interface. They should be connected to the tweet that started the conversation, so that anyone can easily follow “what’s happening”.Twitter a Retweet in your timeline

While some speculated ‘Retweet’ in this form emerged as a result of the search deals with Google and Bing, I think it has more to do with Twitter trying to attract advertising partners and ultimately find a source of income. As a marketer trying to convey a message through Twitter, you don’t want that message to be edited and distorted by the people who disseminate it. You want to have control (basically read-only retweets), proper feedback (replies are redirected back to the source) and tools to measure effectiveness (“Your tweets, retweeted”) and this feature provides all that. Maybe the premium accounts expected to be released this year will offer even more fine-grained control and analytics tools to attract advertisers to Twitter. Users could also benefit from the way this feature is build. It allows them to select which users can send retweets to them, providing an additional filter and possibly making ads in the twitter timeline more relevant.

Personally, I like this new offer from Twitter. While it won’t sway me away from my favorite Brizzly anytime soon, I will keep an eye on it’s growth and evolution.

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