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BW Businessworld

Redoing The Retweet

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On the face of it, retweet is straightforward. It is a reposting of a person's update or tweet. Sample this: "yelvington RT @BizJournalism. Twitter will give you option to attach geographic location data to your tweets:". New media strategist Steve Yelvington is retweeting a post by BizJournalism, and including a link to the article. Here, RT indicates that it is a retweet and the @username indicates who said it first.

To figure out why retweet is at all significant is to understand the power of the social networking tool, Twitter. Think of retweeting as word-of-mouth on steroids. Potentially, you can spread a message to the whole twittering world.

One of the most popular uses of retweet has been to recommend content from blogs and websites to twitterers, those who use Twitter. Or to spread breaking news. The reason you have followers in the first place is because they are interested in what you do, and value your recommendation. When you post something interesting, the chances that someone will retweet it to another group of followers increases. You can enhance this prospect further by using some proven tricks such as saying "Please RT". The retweet can cascade across networks of thousands of users. This is what lies at the heart of viral marketing on Twitter. Several people have used it to create personal brands and position themselves as experts, in order to enhance company image and sell products.

Funnily enough, retweet was not originally part of Twitter. It was created by its users, along with the @ sign used to indicate replies and usernames. Only now is Twitter embarking on Project Retweet to reengineer retweeting. Acknowledging that retweeting is one of the best emergent features and a creative way to share, discover and communicate, Twitter says it is, nevertheless, cumbersome and not well known enough. So, it wants to improve the open exchange of information across the Twitter ecosystem. Twitter is not yet ready to relaunch the retweet, and is going to get feedback from developers. This process, it says, is going to take "a few weeks" of testing, followed by a staggered roll out.

It is not surprising that Twitter wants to take charge of the most powerful features on its interface, even though they were developed by third parties. As these features overtake all that was initially planned for this micro-blogging site, it makes sense to incorporate them into the forthcoming business revenue models for

Everyone is asking how the networking service plans to survive in the future, without making money. Now that Twitter is preparing to explore business models, a hands-off approach cannot very well continue. All the same, many users are not comfortable with the idea of anything interfering with their retweet habits. Twitter plans to put in a retweet button, but for those who want that, there are already utilities that feature them. When you click to retweet, the post will appear in your followers' timeline with the original tweeter's name. How this will work with Twitter clients is not clear yet.

Many users argue that there was no need to fix something that was beginning to work very well and is getting understood by an increasing number of people. The new implementation will take away the ability to add a comment or edit the retweet — and that is taking half the fun out of it.

One of the people most upset by Twitter's proposed changes is Dan Zarrella, a social media consultant at the media portal Zarrella has analysed how retweets work and what makes some of them better than others. He, along with many others, believes that simplicity has been one of the more attractive aspects of Twitter.

Further, retweeting has recently gathered enough momentum for Web analytics startups such as Tweetmeme and to compete to offer services to those who want to know how and why their posts move across networks. For example, tracks Twitter's hottest tweets and trends, while DailyRT ranks tweets.

As changes are made to how retweets spread and how they will look like, companies that track, rank and analyse tweets may also need to adapt (new) techniques. Many of the proposed changes to retweets are also looking good at this point. For example, timelines and aggregations that will make these easier to view. For now, I would say that those who have not explored the retweet tradition should check it out while it still exists.

The author is editorial director at Mindworks Global Media Services.


(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 14-09-2009)