Note: This post was written in early 2011. But nothing has changed. Millions of Twitter users still don't understand that while it has some value, Twitter's built-in Retweet function has all but ruined a key benefit of Twitter for discovering and recommending information to our followers.

You need to understand why in order to understand why you miss a lot of stuff on Twitter, and why others miss your RT recommendations... routinely,

It will also explain why my followers so often see me using the old style (copy and paste) RT method instead.


Well, it's been well over a year since Twitter implemented its built-in "new" retweet feature, which for many of us, immediately wrecked what had been one of Twitter's best features: the old retweeting style which evolved organically from the user-base, and with no input from Twitter whatever.

Naturally, something that millions of people loved just had to be replaced by something confusing and destructive to the Twitter experience, just for the sake of their business model and investors.  So, replace it they did. And in so doing, they created a huge level of completely preventable confusion for both new and old users alike. Confusion that still wreaks havoc on your timeline, even though you're probably not even aware of it. I am just fed up with explaining this over and over again, and still kicking myself for not writing this post over a year ago.  My purpose here is NOT to rehash all the details of what Twitter did, or why. You can click here for that. My purpose is simply to tell you clearly, and without all the confusing details, just…

Why you should NOT (always) use Twitter's built-in retweet feature

There are three very big reasons:

Reason One: Your followers won't miss important stuff you want to recommend to them.

To help you understand why, consider this scenario involving you and two other followers:

@Newbie is some follower you just followed recently. He has about 250 followers himself, and you decided to follow him because he tweeted some funny cat pictures now and then.

@Oldbie is a follower you've liked and trusted since you first got on to Twitter.

One morning, before you woke up, @Newbie retweeted a tweet concerning a really big story in your field of interest. He used Twitter's built in RT feature. It was a story you would really want to know about.

Later that day, @Oldbie retweeted about that the same story, also using the built-in retweet. As you respect @Oldbie, you would have clicked to read his tweet immediately had you seen it. Unfortunately, you never saw @Oldbie's tweet because Twitter's built in RT logic doesn't show you items that:

  • have already been retweeted by any of your other followers. 
  • you follow the original tweeter, and thus, Twitter assumes you don't need to see a RT of it—FROM ANYONE.

If you do see a RT of someone you don't follow, you only see in one time. Twitter simply increases the tally of how many users retweeted that first tweet that you received earlier from that relatively unknown @newbie person. Of course, that tweet came in hours ago, and is now so far down your timeline, you were never likely to see it anyway.

But wait, there's more bad news: Suppose the Tweet that both @Newbie and @Oldbie are new-retweeting was posted by someone else that you follow. In that case, you won't see either of their retweets because Twitter logic assumes you saw the original tweet, even if it went by long ago while you were sleeping, nodding off, having sex. This is a massive fail when big stories are involved. Unless you saw the original when it appeared in your timeline, you will NEVER know about it no matter how many thousands of people RT it. And this is absolutely horrible. It squashes one of Twitter's greatest values: allowing people you trust to filter what you see.

So, now do you see the problem? Twitter decided that you only wanted to see a single instance of a tweet, no matter who sent it, or when, and without any regard for how long you have known a user, nor whether you even recognize, respect or trust them. Thus, because you like some of @newbie's cat pictures, or didn't notice the first time an original tweet showed up in your timeline, you completely missed all the secondary reminders from other friends concerning that story. (And this explains why we often don't see something all of our friends are talking about, too.)

Now you might say, "but I hate seeing dozens of retweets of the same thing." And you're right, sometimes that can be annoying. But keep these things in mind.

  1. Repetitive tweets tell you a story mattered to a lot of your followers. You might ignore the first few retweets you see, but when the 3rd, 4th or 5th come in, you're going to notice, and may well be glad that you did.
  2. Repetitive tweets tell you something is really important, or you wouldn't be seeing so many of them. Even on my mobile phone, all those retweets just help reinforce for me what people find important. And that counts. A lot.
  3. The repetition is not nearly as annoying as missing a story that could be important to you, nor missing out on all the comments that can sometimes be as important as the story itself (or at least funnier). And this leads nicely into the next reason you don't want to use built-in Retweets…

Reason 2:  Users can't add their own comments to the built-in retweets

This one you probably know something about already. But you should not underestimate its importance. Comments embedded in old-style Retweets are one of the very best ways to learn more about a story. More importantly, they help you to discover new users whom you would never know about had they not added a funny or informative comment to a manual, old-style retweet. 

For example, consider this retweet from @newbie, who is now using the old RT method so you WILL see it regardless of who else retweeted that same item already:

@newbie: This story increased my profits! RT @nerdish Study says hire only very good spellers.

Not only did you discover a new interest that you shared with @newbie, but at the same time, you discovered a new person named @nerdish. Without that all important old-retweet comment, it would probably have sailed right on by you if you're timeline was even modestly busy.

Reason Three:  New RT minimizes the impact of Twitter campaigns

Often, we want to let people and organizations know how we—and the crowd—feels about something. With Old style RT, they'll see thousands of tweets aimed at them. But with the new built-in RT, they may not even see a single one.  Let that sink in. If you want @piersmorgan to know how pissed off you are about something, he'll never see it in his mentions unless you use the old RT.  Be lazy and use the New RT, and it's like saying "ditto" on some lone tweet he may never even see. You scream, but no one hears.

Now, you may be saying to yourself…

"What good is all of this if those followers don't play by the old retweet rules as Shoq has laid them out here?" A good question:  If it all depends upon what THEY do, and has nothing to do with the choices that YOU make, then why bother? 

Three good reasons:

  1. It does affect you. The same rules applied to what you can see will have bearing on what others see from you when you use the new RT. Sure, if you're the very first person among your followers to retweet someone, your RT may get seen. But if not? Then it's just one more number added to the tally on the first Retweet showing up in the timeline of people following both of you.
  2. Because only if you understand the impact it has on you, can you ever explain it to them so that they don't do it. And of course, so you won't either. 
  3. As I demonstrated when I created the #MT and the shorter #FF (for #followfriday) tags, change happens on Twitter over time, as the crowd discovers a better mousetrap.  If YOU stop relying on new RT, others will too.

So now you know

Twitter has a lot of reasons to want you to use the new retweet; reasons that have everything to do with them making money by reporting tweet metrics to advertisers, but absolutely nothing to do with the value that you and your followers will get from Twitter.

For me the choice is simple

Old Retweets are the very essence of Twitter. Sometimes I will use a new RT when I'm in a big hurry and just want to be sure at least some of my followers will see a tweet. But this is usually when I really don't care enough about it to give it special treatment, or when the tweet is so densely or specifically worded that I really can't easily condense it down to something that I can fit a comment into. Alas, if the tweet was from earlier in the day, only those who don't follow the original tweeter are even going to see my recommendation.  Again, for me, this aspect of the issue is a massive fail. It impedes our ability to recommend things to our friends, or those who rely on us as a filter of news and information.

As for you, well…

You're gonna do what the hell you do no matter what I say anyway. And that's how it should be. But at least now you know the stakes. Twitter is a very powerful tool for communication and knowledge sharing. Sometimes it seems like the only people who don't quite understand that well enough are the fine folks at Twitter.


Back story on the "New" Retweets (by Shoq)

About the MT signal (by Shoq)l

Welcome to Twitter! It's about time you got here.

This primer has some tips and resources you'll need to get oriented. There are trillions of tutorials available on Twitter, many of them pretty poor. Twitter's own help pages are among the worst of them.  But there are some adequate sites and pages, ranging from this brief overview style, to the far more extensive, tutorial-about-everything style, such as Mashable's Guide To Twitter.  Even the bad ones can still give you the basics.

Note: Twitter 101 For Business is probably better than most of their materials, and worth a look, even if you're not a business.

I suggest you glance at that one, but ignore the rest (for now). Just wander around, asking questions and endearing yourself to people by being clueless and vulnerable.  Just bear these things in mind during your first week:

  • Tip 1: As in most of life, most people don't know what they're talking about. Twitter has a LOT of those people, and many of them are probably advising you right now. Just send them away. Tell them, "go, I'll learn by stumble."
  • Tip 2: If you're a celebrity, like Tiger Woods's penis, I suggest you ignore the volume of people tweeting at you for a  few weeks. Relax and spend time with a handful of friends and co-workers, and learn how to follow people and "feeds" at your leisure. It's easier than you think.  Select one or two really skilled people and listen to them. This keeps you from being overwhelmed by too many tutors.  But don't assume their habits are everyone's habits, and never assume they understand even 1% of what Twitter is about. They don't. And you won't either, for a long time—if ever. Use your desktop and a program like Tweetdeck.  Don't try to absorb all the culture and tricks on a tiny mobile interface. Spread out.
  • Tip 3: If you're a liberal minded person, politically, the Progressive community is your friend here. You'll find many of us on the #p2 tag. You can read about what the #p2 tag is here.  Whenever you see it, a progressive is tweeting out to the progressive community, or some wingnut is spamming the tag and probably calling you a socialist fag. If you're unlucky, these same conservative hatriots can often be seen using their own "#tcot" tag (and others like it).  These "#hashtag" codes are just little identifiers for what people are talking about. It's very informal and primitive, but it works. Clicking on tags will show you the "conversations" (the tweets) happening at those tags.


    Try it. Click #p2 for filthy commie libs, or #tcot for screaming Beck fans who want all liberals to be sent to Super Max concentration camps.

    If you're a conservative minded person, my only tip is this: Facebook.

  • Tip 4: Follow people you can trust to follow people worth following.  But don't stick to your bubble pals (the friend of friends who probably dragged you to Twitter). Pick people you know are interested in diverse issues and ideas. They come upon the most interesting things to know of at any given time. Beware of your own natural tendency to cluster and nest with only people you know.Twitter is about discovery of people and ideas. The best of those are often outside our comfort zones.
  • Tip 5:  Don't be a dork. Especially if you're famous. if someone passes you a tip, or a resource, or an idea, at least tweet a simple thank you.  You don't have to know everyone's name, or that their grandma's dog just died.  But try and explore the very personal exchanges and relationships you can have and enjoy here. You just don't know it yet.
  • Tip 6: Just ask your feed how to do things. Example:  "@shoq, what the hell is "new retweet;" "What's a hat tip?" "How do I start juicy rumors about @pressSec and @kimKardashian?"

That's it. You'll pick it all up from here.

Most of all. Enjoy it. Yes, it's a brave new world, but it's also an interesting and fun one.

Clients You'll Want

Client programs take social media to a new level not usually found on the web verisons of many applications  Nobody you like uses the website to access Twitter:

  • Tweetdeck (makes Twitter MUCH easier). . Tweetdeck is  where you want to be, to start. There are many other programs, but they all work similarly.
  • Hootsuite —  gets better all the time. Tweetdeck is still what I use, as I find it closest to the user experience that I think should be the bare minimum in today's social media ecosystem.

Resources You'll Want

Verify Your Twitter Account — Very important. Celebrities and people important to Twitter can get it done. Just ask your staff to follow instructions.  We little people have to suck it.

Basic Twitter Terms You Must Know

What is Twitter "Blocking"

How to get started with-twitter — As stated above, just one of many tutorials. One is just about as good as another at the start. Get the key ideas; learn by doing.

Twitter Help

Top 50 Twitter Acronyms, Abbreviations and Initialisms by @digiphile — A very good guide by a saavy social media thought leader.

Shoq's Tips — A number of things you won't find easily. Including tricky issues like New Retweet vs. Old Retweet, etc.

What does #FF or "#Follow Friday" mean?  — Since Friday is your first full day, you're about to find out.  It's not one of Twitter's finer traditions. Read about it here. — All the lingo in one place. Not for the squeamish. — A dictionary of tags (best picked up by just watching and asking)

Journalists on Twitter — A decent, if not exhaustive directory of people you will surely be interested in. Remember, there's far more insight and ideas than what come across in any one community.

Directory of Twitter Lists — Lists are a great way to follow the tweets of many people in various interest areas, without actually following individuals.  You just follow the list, and browse the tweets of the people in them. —A General Twitter Directory — The Progressive Community on Twitter. Hardly definitive, but most of the leaders and core people are there.

About Gametags — Which are an amusing way to waste hours of time creating completely silly, often riotously funny, poignant, or humiliating tweets about breaking news, or really dumb or annoying people and events.

How To Verify A Tweet  — Useful for Journalists, or anyone trying to confirm the veracity of a Tweet on a fact or news story.

Note: This page will change often. If you are referring it to friends, please ask them to check back often. If you feel it needs new concepts or resources, please post a comment.

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