What is the MT code?

It’s a new gesturing code for Twitter messages, suggested to me, and then enlarged by me, to mean that some Twitter update was a  “Modified Tweet.” It is meant to expand and complement the more traditional Retweet (RT) gesture, which is probably the most familiar symbol on Twitter after the @sign. As most know, the RT code means, “I have copied and pasted some other user’s tweet and am passing it along to my own followers.”

For those who hate to read all the fine print, in a nutshell, MT means: “I have modified this tweet substantially, for reasons of my own choosing, and you may want to seek out the original before coming to any conclusions about the original author’s content, meaning, intents, or purposes.”

In the many months since I first proposed it, MT has finally started to gain some serious traction. @twitter_tips has broadcasted it a number of times, which brings along new adopters at a steady clip.  Like any new protocol, standard, or signal code, these things take time.  But it seems that MT has proven its mettle and found a niche in the marketplace of reasonably good Twitter ideas.

Oh, and as a rule of thumb, when the really big losers start to catch on, it’s clearly arrived: http://twitter.com/#!/SpeakerBoehner/status/32170448795992064

What’s wrong with RT, Via or PRT gestures?

Nothing. The RT is great device when you are mostly making a copy of a tweet, and perhaps doing some minor edits to shorten it, either to fit into the 140 length limit, or to make room for a remark you want to tack on. And using “via” is fine when you are saying: 1) “this link, or info, came by way of @soAndso, but I have mostly used my own tweet text to tell you about it,” or; 2) when it is in fact a RT, but the “RT @name” prefix would obscure the prosaic elegance, or some other impact of the tweet.*

Finally, the rarely used, but occasionally mentioned “PRT (Partial Retweet),” was always poorly defined, but supposed to mean “modified somehow, probably to shorten it.” The problem that MT addresses, however,  can be seen when your tweet doesn’t fit either of the above cases because you’re making major alterations for purposes such as:

  • Correcting the content in a substantial way.
  • You’re uncertain of the accuracy of a correction.
  • Expanding the content in a substantial way.
  • Mocking the content, the subject, or the sender.
  • Using source content in some way other than as intended.
  • Otherwise recommending that the source’s timeline be checked before assuming anything about the Tweet is accurate–or even related to what they may have said or meant.

Such alterations can, and often do, completely obliterate the original content and meaning, and it is NOT NICE to the original tweeter, to simply imply a RT, or Via, when in fact, you have altered it substantially for any reason.  The reader has no idea whether it’s a true RT, or a completely new work. That’s where the MT gesture comes in.

MT says “tweet is a Modification of another tweet.”

Simply by using MT, the reader instantly knows that the tweet is based on another tweet, so that if they have any questions about its authenticity, content, accuracy, or intent, they can go to the timeline of the original Tweeter and check out the original tweet. In the vast majority of cases that isn’t necessary, but when it is, it’s VERY necessary.  We have all seen flame wars erupt where someone says “@soAndSo, you changed my tweet. That is not what I said.”  The MT is a courtesy that acknowledges the alteration from the start, and avoids all that drama. But it’s also a courteous practice to use when you plan to substantially alter someone’s tweet merely add your two cents, or have fun with it.

Should MT be used for ANY changes to a tweet?

No. Only when you alter the content or its meaning in some significant way. You would NOT use it when merely shrinking (shortening) text to fit into the 140 character space. That is almost always assumed to happen in Retweets now. The MT gesture says to readers, “I’ve made changes that are more than just cosmetic, and I might be munging it up for purposes of amusement or insult. Check the source tweet before assuming it was in any way authentic, or remotely resembling what the tweeter originally said or meant before cursing them out for it.

Is the MT an official gesture

Nope.  It’s simply a good idea that Twitter user @twitwrit suggested as a convention when modifying a tweet with typos or grammar errors. I realized that was a great and necessary idea I’d wanted many times myself, but for the even larger mission of indicating alteration for ANY purpose.  So I decided to expand on the idea, use it, and promote it among my followers, and with this post, everyone else on Twitter, as well.

Will 3rd party applications recognize MT?

No.  The MT is NOT a retweet, or a Via.  It’s substantially different enough that it should be considered “a new work.”  Thus, you would not want it being regarded as a retweet or a via.  Of course, should someone decide to Retweet the new MT, that can and should be processed normally because the “RT” codel (or Via) would be present.

Can you do this on Twitter… just make stuff up?

Well, who’s gonna stop me? You? Just kidding :). In all seriousness, yes, you can just make stuff up. Twitter is a community defined tool; many of the better ideas, including the RT, #hashtags, and other conventions came about via an ad hoc adoption by the community itself. What works is what people decide is useful, and they just start using it. As of September 10th, 2009, I had been using the MT for about a week. I intend to keep using it.  If others find it a good idea, it will endure, and future digital anthropologists may find this page and understand its origins. If it doesn’t, it’s just one more of my thousands of bad or failed ideas nobody will remember a month from now :)

* More about “Via” —   I’ve never been wild about the fuzziness of this code. It’s far too imprecise. It was used to mean RT in some twitter clients, before RT caught on.  All too often, it’s used to mean “Original Author,” and that usage should be terminated with extreme prejudice.  When not meaning RT, it should really only be used to mean “the source of this was, or it came to me by way of.”  There really IS no current convention for “Author,” but there should be.  I personally use “by: @soAndSo,” when I mean that “they wrote this,” but details on that suggestion will be a future show:)


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