Twitter Debuts Native Retweet Feature
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This week Twitter is rolling out a long-anticipated update to its profile pages -- despite the fact that it admits the addition will be "somewhat controversial."
The move aims to bring some clarity and order to the popular "retweet" feature that people use to pass along interesting items other people post to their followers.
Retweeting through Twitter's site is still a manual process, through which a user copies and pastes the tweet he's looking to pass on, adding the letters "RT." Of course, simplified one-click retweet features have spring up in many of the Twitter clients created by third-party developers, but the feature remained absent from Twitter's home page.
Then in August, Twitter announced plans to develop its own native version of the feature.
Understanding that, much like Facebook's checkered history of product launches and redesigns, tinkering with Twitter's functionality will invite a groundswell of protest, CEO Evan Williams took to his personal blog to address the issue late Tuesday.
"I'm making this post because I know the design of this feature will be somewhat controversial," Williams wrote.
Williams explained that the current method of retweeting, though second nature to many serious Twitterers, can be confusing. In the echo chamber, it's not always clear who originally authored the post that's being passed along, he said. After all, when a person retweets something written by someone else, it is his picture that appears alongside the post, not the original author's.
"The attribution is confusing in the best case," Williams said.
But there are other problems associated with the current retweeting system, he said. For instance, copying and pasting a tweet while adding the necessary syntax to designate it as a retweet invites users to edit the original post, which is sometimes necessary given Twitter's limit of 140 characters.
"Worse, RTs can actually be easily faked, which has become a form of spam, wherein well-known people are shown to be promoting something they never Twittered about," Williams said.
With the new native retweet feature, which is currently being integrated into the third-party Twitter clients, the site aims to preserve the original content by removing the additional syntax that accompanies retweets, as well as the ability to annotate the post or add comments.
Not surprisingly, Twitter lit up with reactions to the changes, with many complaining that it stripped out one of the most essential features.
The comment from user "swagattt" was typical:
"The new #retweet feature has one little glitch. It retweet[s] the full tweet & does not allow for comments by the retweeter* DAMN!"
Williams acknowledged that the change would draw protests from some of the more vocal members of the community. "We left it out of this first version mostly for simplicity," he said, adding that Twitter was exploring ways to allow for comments in future iterations.
The syntax that includes the IDs of the users who retweeted the original post will now be invisible, but embedded as metadata. That means that the profile picture of the original poster will persist as long as his tweet ricochets around the Twittersphere, inviting protests from users upset at the prospect of having unfamiliar avatars invade their home pages.
"I ask those people to keep in mind the following: You're already reading the content from these people via organic retweets," Williams said, referring to the current method of retweeting. "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."