If you take a close look at your timeline on Twitter.com today you’ll notice that there’s been a slight cosmetic change to each tweet that likely means that Twitter’s internal retweet functionality is soon to appear on the network.
See the space being made available to the left of ‘Reply’? That’s probably where the retweet button is going to appear, or perhaps reply will shift left, with retweet on the right.
Why is it controversial? Because it’s very different to the retweet that you and I have come to love. The implementation, codenamed Project Retweet by Biz Stone in his blog post about the new feature last August, completely changes the way that retweets are handled. Rather than simply re-coding Twitter to analyse the RTs, vias and so on that most people understand and use, Twitter determined it made more sense to present the retweet whole – that is, when you retweet somebody (using the internal button), their entire tweet will appear in the stream of the people who follow you (as well as their username, avatar etc), and you’ll be credited below.
Here’s a sketch Biz put together to illustrate the idea:
While I can see some of the logic, I personally think this is going to be very confusing for many people who use Twitter. Lots of folk are going to see people they don’t follow and avatars they don’t recognise appearing in their timelines, and not like it. If you’re following a few hundred people now and a number of them are big retweeters, suddenly it might seem like you’re following twice that amount.
Perhaps more importantly, because these Twitter-powered retweets are not in any way editable you will not be able to style them to your liking. As said, they come 100 per cent as is. This means you cannot add your own comments, something that lots of folk love to do (myself included). Which means that many people will likely continue to use the manual retweet system as before, just to have a little flexibility. I, for example, almost exclusively use via, because I like the content to come first. (There’s been some talk from Twitter that future versions of this system may allow the user to configure the retweet in some way, but that won’t be an option on launch.)
There is some good news. In-built retweets will come with metadata, which should give us lots of lovely numbers to play with (most retweeted users, most retweeted tweets etc). You can turn retweets off on a per-user basis, which at least gives you some control over the impact on your timeline. (I can see this being very popular.) And seeing new faces in your timeline may introduce you to new people to follow – or perhaps avoid.
(I’m not sure what the mechanism will do with retweets of people you have blocked – I assume they won’t show up in your timeline, whereas using the manual RT function we have now they do.)
And while in six months or a year the obvious pros of an internal retweet mechanism will likely mean all these niggles are a thing of the past, when the system goes live it’s going to be very messy, and very confusing. Particularly if it’s staggered into the network like Twitter’s lists feature. Expect #fixretweets or something very similar to be trending shortly after Project Retweet launches.