Twitter CEO Evan Williams Nov. 10 took steps to explain how the company's native retweet feature will surface more relevant information with more clarity than existing retweet services created by TweetMeme, ReTweet and others.
Retweet is one of the most popular activities users engage in on Twitter and is complementary to the act of posting a tweet. When a user finds a piece of content on the Web he or she wants to share on Twitter, retweet buttons from TweetMeme, ReTweet and others let them blast that tidbit to Twitter for followers to read.
This is an efficient alternative to copying and pasting links, shortening them with Bit.ly or some other URL shortening service, and tweeting them.
Twitter Co-founder Biz Stone said Nov. 5 the company has begun its gradual rollout of a native retweet button. In a rare post on his personal blog, Williams said third-party retweet services make separating who wrote the original tweet from who retweeted it confusing. He explained:
With regular tweets, you have a user picture, a username, and the tweet text. They all have a particular relation to each other. We call this, the "anatomy of a tweet." With what I'll call organic RTs, you have the same elements, but they have a different relation to each other. Most notably, the text of the tweet is not written by the person whose picture you're seeing, nor the username that's at the beginning-except for when the retweeter annotates the tweet, so they have written part of it.
The "attribution confusion" issue, as Williams called it, becomes compounded because different clients treat RTs differently, and if someone retweets a retweet it gets messy fast.
Moreover, when multiple people retweet the same thing, Twitter begins to seem redundant, or even spammy. Some people suffer from what Williams called "retweetarrhea."
So, here's how Twitter's retweet utility will work.
To help "discover the information that matters most to you as quickly as possible" Twitter's retweet feature will include a retweet link by each tweet.
With two clicks, the tweet will be sent on to a user's followers. Unlike other retweet services, there will be no annotation capabilities, so as to keep the tweet clean. Williams said users who want to comment can quote another tweet.
The noisiness will be eliminated thanks to a setting that will allow users to turn retweets on and off on a per-user basis. Users who only want to see someone's personally authored tweets can shut off just their retweets altogether but still follow them.
To get rid of the attribution confusion, Twitter will show in a user's timeline the avatar and username of the original author of the tweet, with the person who retweeted it (whom users follow) in the metadata underneath.
Williams conceded that it may surprise people to discover avatars of people they don't follow in their timeline. He asked users to keep in mind the following:
""You're already reading the content from these people via organic retweets. This is just giving you more context. My experience is that you get used to this pretty quickly, and it's a welcome way to mix things up. If you find someone constantly throwing people in there you don't like, as mentioned before, you can turn off Retweets from them (while still following their non-retweets). And if you really don't like it, and you only want to see what people you follow wrote themselves, you can turn off Retweets for everyone you follow (individually). Organic RTs do not offer nearly this flexibility.""
With Williams' disclaimers and caveats in mind, eWEEK puts the question to you, the readers and Twitter users: Will the lack of annotation services and the addition of unfamiliar avatars both you when you use Twitter?
Your comments are important; they will be passed along to Williams and the team.