Twitter's Project Retweet Goes Live – Let's Take A Closer Look

Twitter’s somewhat controversial re-imagining of the retweet mechanism – codenamed Project Retweet – is being staggered into the network on a piecemeal basis, and it went live for me a few moments ago. In this article I’ll take a quick look at what you can expect when the feature is activated for you.

First, here’s how my homepage looked when the tool first appeared:

(click to enlarge)

The text at the top of the screen says:

Hi there, you’re part of a beta group receiving this feature, which means you may start seeing retweets in a new way. People who don’t have this yet will see your retweets prefaced by “RT”.

That last sentence is quite important because it means any retweets you do now using the new system won’t be invisible to people who don’t have access to this item.

Further down my timeline you will notice @NathanBransford. I don’t follow Nathan, but his tweet has appeared in my stream because he was retweeted by @Jinxie_G, who is in my network.

As you can see, the text says:

Someone you follow thought this was worth retweeting, which is why you are seeing it in your Home timeline.

There’s a small icon representing one of these retweets that appears to the left of each one, and mousing over that brings up a little pop-up balloon.

Here’s another example:

@Twalk – whoever he may be – neatly underlines problem number one with Project Retweet: strangers in your timeline. Whereas before we were privy to non-followed usernames in our stream, seeing a brand new avatar, especially if you don’t follow an enormous amount of people, can be unsettling, particularly as Twitter has had problems with rogue following in the past. I’m sure this is something we can get used to, but it’s a little odd right now. On the flip side, it is quite likely to bring you some extra attention and followers, assuming of course you’re generally interesting and relevant.

There’s a new ‘Retweets’ button on my right sidebar, and when I click on that I get a new page which reveals three items of information:

  • Retweets by others, which details any retweets made by the people I am following. This will show up everybody they have retweeted, whether I’m following those individuals or not
  • Retweets by you, which is any retweets I have done (using this feature, not manually)
  • Your tweets, retweeted, which is anything I have retweeted, which has then been retweeted by somebody else

The button to activate a retweet is located to the bottom-right of each tweet, and to the direct right of the reply button, which has moved a little to the left. When you click on the button, a little bubble pops up asking you if you want to “Retweet to your followers?” and you can select ‘yes’ or hit the ‘x’ to cancel.

What’s interesting about this is Twitter’s new take on the retweet doesn’t take the user’s name into consideration when parsing the RT. What this means is that you don’t have to worry about how long the user’s name is when doing your retweet, as any tweet, even if it uses all 140 characters, can be retweeted without alarm.

Or a need to edit, which is a good thing, as you cannot in any way edit retweets using this new feature. This means you cannot add any kind of commentary, correct typographical errors, agree/disagree, etc. It’s a simple and absolute repost, as is, and that’s your lot.

This is how it looks:

This last area is problem number two, and I think a far more serious issue than a few random faces popping up throughout your day. Being able to add a little va-va voom to a retweet keeps Twitter interesting. Taking that option away means it might all get a little vanilla.

(One also assumes that as users who do not have this feature see the old-fashioned RT @ instead, if you don’t take the length of the tweet into consideration against the user’s name when clicking on the new retweet button, it won’t actually fit within the 140 characters at all. Which is all very ugly, but should only be a short-term niggle.)

This is all very early days and it can a little while to get used to anything new and different, but I do think Twitter will see something of a backlash from veterans, perhaps demonstrated through avoidance, of this new feature simply because the retweet cannot be edited. I’m quietly confident that Twitter will allow us to edit these new RTs in the future.

New users will of course not know anything different and are likely to adopt this tool with some relish. It certainly makes things simpler for less experienced folk, and the metadata and analytics this now-internal tool will provide should be of great interest for us all.

In the meantime, the leading Twitter software clients such as TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop, having only just started to implement Twitter’s recent lists mechanism, will now have to rapidly re-code their own retweet functionality to take advantage of this new function. While also, of course, ensuring that the old, manual retweet works just as well as it always did.

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