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
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
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
“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
“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
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.”