The new Twitter retweet system has been unleashed, and it's a classic example of taking something that worked, and breaking it. Rather than simplify something most regular Twitter users understood and used rather creatively, they have now created a hybrid pastiche of behaviors where retweets will mean different things to different people, depending on how they were generated, and which client is in use when perusing them.

It's just nutty. I was contemptuous of this idea from the start, and early experience from most users suggests that I was right to be. It's an example of what happens when people who own a service believe that their narrow experiences represent everyone else's, and what they may or may not want. As I tweeted recently:

The two biggest lies in business are: "Our research shows.." and "Our customers say they want…"

The old method of retweet will still work, but you can be sure the Twitter clients will all handle it differently. But all in all, rather than improve the experience, they have simply made it very difficult to understand who sees what, and why.  Far from simplifying things for new, or casual users, they have greatly convoluted them. Even experts aren't quite sure what happens, let alone able to explain it easily.

I just don't have time to really explain all of this right now, so I will just list a few articles that try to explain what they have done, and let you figure it out. I will try and clarify my take with updates, so bookmark this for later reference 

If someone comes across a really solid explanation of how it all works, please Tweet or email me, and I will pass it on here.

If you have specific understandings of the behaviors (and you are certain about them), post as comments below. I will edit and include them in a more formal guide later.

Why Retweet works the way it does  — Twitter CEO, Ev Williams explains in a way that will the most make sense (as far as this sense goes) to social media geeks and people who enjoy reading self-serving corporate business case modeling repackaged in pseudo user-interest clothing.

Project Retweet: Why It Will Change Twitter for the Better —  Mashable's take on the new Retweet before it was released. I find this article to be sorely lacking, and a bit of PR puffery planted by Twitter in an attempt to justify something they wanted to do anyway, and got help explaining the rationale wherever they could.

Save the Retweet — Dan Zarella's excellent early effort to prevent this farce from ever happening in the first place. (Wasn't loading at press time, but probably will soon.).


The Reviews Roll In: New Retweet=#FAIL

Social networks are here to stay…

…and so is your Twitter name. While it's too early to say how social media is going to evolve, I am betting that Twitter names will become most people's key public identity for many years to come, if not forever. That's one reason I try to use "Shoq" wherever I can. It's short, memorable, and easy to type.

The latter is crucial. Microblogging messages (a.k.a. Tweets) are, by design, very brief, so every character counts. When your name is too long, it denies space to people trying to retweet your messages, or include you as some kind of "cc" in @mentions.  And short names are getting harder and harder to come by, so if you have a name over about 8 characters,  I strongly advise that you just bite the bullet now, and go find something short and sweet.

Relax, it's not a huge life change.

Fortunately, Twitter makes this less painful than many services, because when you change your user name, you're not actually changing the account; just the name. Thus, you don't lose your followers. They will all still see your tweets. You will have to make it clear to them that you changed the name, however,  so they remember to type it correctly when addressing you manually, and not via some client interface button.  This is a matter of blasting a few tweets for a few days and you're done.

While finding short names can be challenging, it's made easier if you remember that what your name is, is less important than that it be memorable. The days of screen names that reflect your personality died with AOL. Sure, you might feel you're "JustASunflower1982," but does anyone else think so, or care? No, they do not. They'd just as soon you be JSun82, so they can easily  remember,  type, and spot it among those tiny 9 point Tweetdeck typefaces.

How to find a new Twitter name

Just open the Twitter settings and start testing name availability until you find something that you like.  Just don't press "Save" until you're fairly happy with it.

Remember, it's not irreversible, so you don't have to be too neurotic or anal about this process. Remember, it just doesn't much matter. You are not your name, but only what you type. The quality of your output, and the name always get associated in people's heads fairly quickly. If you really get stuck, just Tweet me. I can usually come up with something for you, using whatever tortured renaming logic jumps into my head at that moment.  I'm sure I can convince you it's a good one. It's my only real skill. 

How to safely switch your account & followers to a new Twitter name

This video will tell you how to do that relatively safely, if you like spoken video tutorials. But don't be sloppy or slow, as the process can go awry if you mess up.  

I hate spoken tutorials, so here's a written one. Basically, to switch your existing name and followers to your new name, do this: 

  • Log in to the new (already existing name) in one browser (e.g.. Chrome or Internet Explorer).
  • Log in to your old name in another browser (e.g., Firefox)
  • Change the new account name to  newname_old. Press save. Then without delay…
  • Change your old account name ot the newname. Press save. Done. Your entire account and followers will be tied to the new user name. 
  • I advise that you keep your old name around to prevent others from stealing it. 
  • Note: You don't have to use two browsers, but you'll have to log in and out of them to switch, and this increases the time it takes, and someone could conceivably grab your names while in transition.


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:!/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:)


About Shoq’s Common Hash Tags, Codes and Terms  –