The best and worst thing Twitter did in 2009: RT

A representative tweet from tonight says it all: “how can new RT’s be cool? No context, no editing possible.” (TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher said that).

The new retweet feature is definitely the worst and best thing Twitter did this year.

Why does it suck?

Well, a few reasons:

1. Twitter doesn’t use it consistently everywhere. For instance, if you use Twitter’s new list feature you won’t get a choice to retweet there. Why not? Well, @nk who built the list feature at Twitter says “we actually deliberately excluded them. Some people complained they were annoying.” (In this case Twitter should ignore the customers — if you listen to Porsche customers they’ll design you a Volvo, that’s the case here).
2. The new RT did NOT match how people were using old RTs. Old RTs are more like a quote. You’d put “RT” at the beginning of a Tweet, copy and paste the Tweet you wanted to tell everyone about, then add a little comment onto the end, if you had space. The new RT doesn’t let you edit the Tweet you are quoting and doesn’t let you explain to your readers why you think that Tweet is worth RT’ing.
3. Not every client supports the new RT and they don’t support it in the same way. This is VERY confusing. Seesmic, for instance, doesn’t support it the same way across all of their clients and that’s from one company.
4. Twitter didn’t do a good job of explaining WHY this new functionality was needed (it was for a future version of search that they don’t want to discuss in public yet — instead they explained it that users were doing RT’ing wrong. That pissed everyone off and tainted this feature).

I commented at the time of its release that Twitter should NOT have called this “retweeting.” Instead they should have called it “sharing” or “favoriting” or “liking.” In reality this is a copy of liking features that FriendFeed has had for quite a while.

OK, so, now that we got all the bad out of this, here’s why I love the new RT feature:

1. It works on mobile. I use it all the time on Tweetie, my favorite iPhone app. It is easier to do than the old RT feature. Plus, it’s impossible to screw up (on mobile it’s very easy to copy and paste something wrong, or mess something up). I use the new RT feature all the time because it is two clicks and everyone gets to see something cool I just saw.
2. The retweets by others page is one of my favorite pages on Twitter now. Why? Because I get to see tons of stuff that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise (and I’m following 16,000 people so I get to see a lot of stuff you probably don’t see).
3. It paves the way to a new Twitter world: one where metadata gets included OUTSIDE the Tweet rather than inside. This new world gives me characters back and makes Twitter potentially dramatically more useful.
4. It will make search dramatically better. Now that Google is adding tweets to real time results we see just how bad these results are (see Danny Sullivan’s post about Brittany Murphy’s death and the results on Google for awesome examples). Why? Because everyone’s tweets are treated the same. To make search better we need more data about which tweets really are important. Tweets that have a ton of RT’s are dramatically more important for search results than ones that don’t have RT’s (the new RT feature is a lot easier for third-party services like TweetMeme and other search engines to count).
5. If someone starts retweeting too many items, or items you don’t want to see you can turn them off (I was doing too many RT’s yesterday, for instance, to turn them off to protect yourself just click the green retweet button at the top of my page to turn off RT’s from me, for instance).

That said, I’ve switched my behavior and urge you to switch too.

I still do old-style RTs, but on Tweetie I use the “Quote” feature to do that. Usually I will just quote a Tweet and then add a note about what was important. So Mike’s tweet becomes:

“how can new RT’s be cool? No context, no editing possible.” via @mikebutcher (I think he’s wrong, see my blog for why).

Anyway, there are HUGE changes coming to Twitter and this is just a foreshock. Twitter should be MORE aggressive and more consistent in pushing out these changes so that new search features can be enabled.