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. http://butt.ly/3das

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.

Related

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

About the MT signal (by Shoq)l

  • Sportsfanatic100

    I am new to twitter. What is the old retweet?
    Also, can people who do not follow you see a new retweet, for example, if you were the only one to do it or if you were the first to do it?

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate you explaining these things to me. I had no idea.

  • Marc

    Thanks, Shoq. That was a lucid, concise, and compelling case. I especially appreciate the insight into Twitter culture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maliheh-Banoo/100001527498988 Maliheh Banoo

    i find  retweeting  dull and  stupid…just because i dont re post  you tweet  dont mean  i did not read it.

  • brewers_wife

    I am old school and always manually RT w a comment, but I use Tweetdeck and it makes it difficult to see the RTs as it hides any that have been RTd more than once, so I can’t say thank you.  Found the setting for this in Tweetdeck settings, under ‘Twitter” tab and uncheck the ‘hide repeated RTs’ box. Then you can see all the times you are RTd

  • numpty

    Reason one is precisely the reason I LOVE the new retweets. There’s nothing worse than having your timeline clogged up with duplicate tweets, occasionally prefixed by lame comments.

  • Neil Brewitt

    Interesting but would have been more credible had you listed the PRO and con of each point so I could decide for myself. I personally hate the clusterfuck of RTs when Stephen Fry posts anything, which new retweets cure.

  • Neil Brewitt

    Interesting, but would be more credible if it listed the PROS and cons of each point so I can choose for myself. I particularly hate the clusterfuck of well meaning Stephen Fry RTs every time he posts, which the twitter retweet cures.

  • masr now

    great article, thank you. http://www.masr.im/

  • http://twitter.com/ern_malleyscrub Thread Bear

    It’s interesting my reply to Calile Feyen has my twitter user name from 6 months ago… Curious indeed.

  • http://twitter.com/ern_malleyscrub Thread Bear

    It’s interesting my reply to Calile Feyen has my twitter user name from 6 months ago… Curious indeed.

  • Bansalhimanshu

    I think twitter can improve the feature of retweet to let re-tweeters add a comment. I noticed one more reason to not use retweet. When you retweet, you don’t add followers (probably your followers don’t see your tweet and there is no increase in mention) while we you write refresh people notice and follow.

  • Anonymous

    I would qualify as a newbie. I don’t understand how the version on my iPhone is different (better) than on computer. My phone app allows me to “quote tweet”, computer does not. On computer, to add my comment I use Reply, then paste the original tweet, then my comment. What does all this look like to my followers? I’m not sure.
    Is there no way to have the same version on puter as I have on iPhone?? Any thoughts and comments welcome!

    • Bansalhimanshu

      There is a retweet button in apps or on computer.

    • ImJustMe

      If you are a chrome user ( and I HEARD firefox)  you can go to chromes app store and get the RT Old School.   It will allow you to write directly instead of copy and paste. 

  • http://davidglarson.com Dave Larson

    Besides the fact that new style RTs don’t appear in Twitter lists.

  • http://twitter.com/ern_malleyscrub Thread Bear

    There are some general “etiquette” rules on twitter that follow “common sense” and politeness. If you like a tweet, you can Retweet it, or you can go to original news article or blog page, and tweet that from the source. When you do this, it’s polite to acknowledge where you saw the link first. If you “cut and paste” the page URL (found at top of screen -”address bar”) usually the “shortener” will condense the link in your tweet, (especially if you use Tweetdeck) When the “shortening happens you can add “via @……._— (twitter name of person who showed you article/ link/ news item etc) . There’s also MT – or “Modified Tweet” to show you’ve altered original in some way.

  • http://twitter.com/ern_malleyscrub Thread Bear

    There are some general “etiquette” rules on twitter that follow “common sense” and politeness. If you like a tweet, you can Retweet it, or you can go to original news article or blog page, and tweet that from the source. When you do this, it’s polite to acknowledge where you saw the link first. If you “cut and paste” the page URL (found at top of screen -”address bar”) usually the “shortener” will condense the link in your tweet, (especially if you use Tweetdeck) When the “shortening happens you can add “via @……._— (twitter name of person who showed you article/ link/ news item etc) . There’s also MT – or “Modified Tweet” to show you’ve altered original in some way.