Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Twitter: give "RT" references "for free" (suggestion)

There's been pleeeenty of discussion on the internet about the way Twitter is subtly changing its mechanisms (regarding retweets) but with not-so-subtle consequences. In short, I feel the current situation is a bit crooked, and at fault.

Short summary of current situation:

- you can either do "official" retweet which means the original tweet is unmodified and shows with the original tweeter's icon, but also to your followers. Essentially, you're giving the tweet more publicity.

This is good, but it lacks making even trivial corrections (s.a. fixing typos or formatting, or making the tweet slightly easier for the readers). Often, such changes are desirable.

So you have the "unofficial" RT characters. Mark "RT @someone" anywhere in a tweet and it's taken that this is a retweet (maybe edited) from that user. The new tweet will show under your "colors" at your followers only, like it came from you (which it did). The "RT" is just a social convention, though some (non-official) tools happily support it.

I like both. They serve different uses.

Now, let's take this tweet today from @TheEconomist.

: A Greek entrepreneur discusses the difficulties of doing business in the country due to bureaucracy

I like a different way of highlighting there's audio involved. Not at the very front, but subtly just before the link. Also, I like to inform readers if flash is required (which it is for the link above). So:

A Greek entrepreneur discusses the difficulties of doing business in the country due to bureaucracy. (flash audio)  RT @TheEconomist

That's it - and send. No - you cannot. Too many characters.

I could send it without the "RT" part but that's kind of stupid. I want to give @TheEconomist the glory. Worse still, if someone re-retweets this (the "RT way") she'd be adding my twitter id at the end, "@bmdesignhki". Now we're truly out of the 140 character bounds. This is very known problem.

The cure

What if any "RT @someone @another" mentions in tweets would be handled not as part of the 140 characters but "free", as metadata of the tweet. Twitter could do this. The implications would be:

- Allowing any tweet to be RT'ed any number of times, without bothering people with the 140 char limit
- Settling the official/unofficial retweet discussion. Hopefully.

The user experience would not really change at all (at least, not for worse). Any "RT" tweet would be shown in *my* colors, so that I cannot mess with the reputation of someone else, by malign modifications or fakes of their tweets. I guess this is behind the official policy of unmodified-retweets-only.

Better still, Twitter could actually link metadata to the earlier tweets this one was based upon (as a chain), not only the twitter id's. This way, I could "wind back" to earlier tweets if needed (s.a. the @TheEconomist original).

In short, I see this pretty easy to do. It's more of a political issue than technical, most likely. Please - do it.

If Apple was Twitter, they'd do this. :)  Give us modifiable retweets Done Right.


Actually, give also '#tags' free of char-charge. In other words both retweeted id's and tags of a tweet (especially if at the end of a tweet) should be freely addable. If someone tweets a full 140-char masterpiece, I can then "RT" it but also add tags of my liking - i.e. "#masterpiece" - to it. The only place where the 140 char limit really stands on my way is these two issues.

Should be easy to fix, right? :)

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