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November 18, 2009


The Zen of Twitter’s Retweet Feature

by Anthony Verre

The Meme Ocean and the Art of Zen Retweeting

The Zen of the Twitter Retweet Feature

Today, I get to play Devil’s Advocate. Today the quite brilliant, smashing, blunt, and brazen ladies of Outspoken Media declared “the suck” on Twitter’s new RT feature. After reading it, I don’t disagree with it in principal. It would definitely suck to have a great night of good times, think you went to bed alone, and wake up next to some chico/chica.

But, now with the ass-kissing and link-dropping out of the way, let’s move into the position. While the new Retweet feature can be a bit invasive, it’s only because we all see ourselves as a “stream” of meme. That this stream, like other tributaries, are encapsulated and flow into a larger system.

While this is not entirely incorrect, it’s conceptual and subjective stance to see yourself as a stream. One could choose to think of themselves as a meme ocean. After all, what are tweets but 140 character memes dispersed in a finite system, connected to other finite systems.

The true genius behind the RT feature is that it tries to capture this Ocean Meme subjectivity. With Traditional RT’ing, you can stretch a meme only so far. Now the entirety of Twitter is an ocean. It’s a movement away from the individualized stream into an almost super-conscious of meme threads and Zen Retweeting.  But this only a surface level issue, and a little philosophical to explore without another post. So let’s leave it at that.

The Point / Counterpoint:

However, I still have followers who will try out the new way and insert possible muggers, thieves and puppy killers into my stream. Twitter has now left me in a really uncomfortable position – let the strangers in and give up the sanctity of my network or block retweets from people in my network. I don’t like how that feels. I don’t like any of this.

I think that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. And truthfully, I don’t like it either. However, I do like the fact that my ego-driven meme can be spread even farther now, reaching people it might not normally ever run across. As for the “strangers in your stream”, I tend to think it’s a good. If Twitter is to really be a community, the new RT functionality is certainly fostering that idea. Of course you’re going to get a fair share of worthlessness. Everyone’s going to get spammed, and get “weird faces”, but you’ve got to look past that.

The New RT: Death of Niche Communities

The great part about this is discovering those who you never would have discovered otherwise. The 3rd and 4th level connected followers. I admit, the odds definitely don’t favor it, but there’s always a diamond in the rough. This RT functionality does a lot to lift the veil on “niche communities” (i.e. the SEM community, the Celebrity community, or the Tech community). Straying into philosophical territory again, the new RT helps to show the inter-connectivity of system, the entire “no wo/man is an island” concept.

And, for a conflict-theorist subscriber, I always up for tearing down power-structures and leveling the playing field.  Get ready for it: I’m about to call a spade a spade. The only people really, really, bitching about this new functionality are superstars of the Twitter community. Those with a relatively large following are obviously protective of their stream and followers. I don’t think this is Twitter’s way to spread the power equally, but it’s certainly to get some exposure to those just engaging the space.  And, after all, isn’t that what each of us begs of followers (and ourselves): we care less about how you use the space, but that you engage it genuinely. This is a chance, an opportunity, to allow people to do that.

At the end of day, I’m on the side of giving Twitter a “Commendable Effort” award to help along the system as a whole get “more connected” and loosen the grip of niche-power-holdings within communities. You don’t have to use it, but open yourselves up to the possibility that you may find some great folks out there who can provide insight,  reliable, and trustworthy information (even if they are strangers to your ocean memes).

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  1. Nov 18 2009

    Wow. Bold move Anthony.

    Though I completely disagree with you.

    “The only people really, really, bitching about this new functionality are superstars of the Twitter community. Those with a relatively large following are obviously protective of their stream and followers.”

    Really? Me, with my tiny following count? I’m a superstar of Twitter? Teh Awesome!

    There are so many of us “little people” complaining it makes heads spin.

    “I don’t think this is Twitter’s way to spread the power equally, but it’s certainly to get some exposure to those just engaging the space.”

    Really? How does limiting the ReTweet to injecting alien avatars into my tweet stream garner my trust? The reason I follow new people is because the “old” RT method allows me to instantly consider who they’re RTing. The new method mostly comes across as feeling like spam.

    And I’m exponentially less likely to click on a link in one of these – instead, opting to ignore it rather than having to go hunt for the person I already trust in that RT stream.

    With the previously unpolluted RT method, I was (and thanks to TweetDeck still AM) more likely to find new people to follow. That I can assess in a faster, more intelligent manner.

    Just my counter-point to your counter-point.

  2. Nov 18 2009

    Nice post, and also a valid opinion.

    While I personally fall on the side of Outspoken on this one, I completely acknowledge the logic here. I don’t think it’s a right or wrong issue, simply personal preference. Along those lines, maybe this is all leading towards an option allowing users to personalize their experiences (Preferences).

    I personally don’t follow many people, which would probably offer insight into the fact that I prefer a smaller network of people I’m comfortable with. Perhaps this will lead me to broaden my horizons…who can say.

    I will say that I have no intentions of rebelling and blocking people. Will I subconsciously filter those I don’t know? Could be, don’t know. So far, yes.

    Thanks for sharing the opinion. I prefer the old way, but your post has valid reasons others may disagree. I do not think this is as much a landslide failure as some seem to make it out to be…I just think they may be the louder ones. Time will tell there.

  3. Nov 18 2009

    But niche communities are kind of the whole point, right?

    I mean, isn’t that what’s great about social media? That it provides mechanisms where you can go online and find the members of your own particular tribe? Where whatever kind of weird happens to spin your wicket, you can find those with whom to share it?

    Nobody belongs to just one tribe. I’m in the “writer” tribe and the “left-wing social services tax-me-harder” tribe and the “local food and sustainable agriculture” tribe, yadda yadda. Twitter lets me collect my tribe members into my stream, and share with them as I see fit.

    Now, somebody out there in my tribe is probably a member of the “feral cat lovers” tribe and someone else is probably in the “we love tofu just a little bit TOO much” tribe, and god knows what else. And that’s great–for them. They can turn their twitter stream into something customized for them.

    But there’s no particular value to me in a retweet from some random joe about tantric tofu tips suddenly showing up in my stream.

    The whole point of social media is enabling niche communities to find themselves and flourish. All this new RT feature does is decrease the signal-to-noise ratio overall, and that’s no help to anyone.

  4. Nov 18 2009

    I like it. I wish it would let me add/edit to Retweets. I can always do old-school style for that though. For a Retweet with a click, it’s perfect. At my age and status, waking up next to someone I don’t recall immediately makes me want to start it up like I’m with Mick Jaggar. You know why? I trust myself, that’s why. I even trust myself inebriated.

  5. Nov 18 2009

    Valid points and I can see this side of the argument. For me, though, it is still like inviting one person to a dinner party and having them send a total stranger in their place. It’s an invasion and a violation of the trust I put in that person when I invited them to my dinner party (i.e. into my Twittersphere).

    For the record, if I ever invite you to a real life dinner party, don’t send someone in your place and don’t bring anyone uninvited along. I bite strangers. 😉

  6. Nov 18 2009

    The strangers in the stream? well, how about spending say 10 hrs. writing a post and have someone else claim it literally, it happens all the time, or heaven forbid you be exposed to someone outside of your current sphere i.e. you meet a new person who may just be the smartest person in the room. Geez, that’d be a major catastrophe!

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