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Reforming Retweets

Page history last edited by sanjay.kairam@... 15 years ago

Note: I chose to put this in the Brainstorming section instead of the Proposals section because I don't have an exact syntax in mind, but with some refinements, perhaps it could be moved over.



Sanjay Kairam


In 140 characters:

Retweets present partial info about the messengers and no info about the message.  Syntax such as "R#1239402394" could fix this.




Basically, the problem with the current ‘RT’ syntax is this: the only information currently carried by “RT @username” is that the person “username” was somehow involved in helping some information making its way to you. 


  • First, because things may be RT’d multiple times, you end up having to either string together multiple “RT”s (and likely run out of space) or start dropping some.  If you start dropping names (not in the social climber sense), do you drop the name of the person who sent it to you and deny credit to a close social connection or instead do you drop the name of the writer and deny credit to the original producer?  Neither option right now is very palatable. 
  • Second, the RT doesn’t carry any information about the message itself, you are forced to quote the entire message, which just seems impractical in a 140-character medium.  Removing parts of the quote, then, to save space is actually somewhat misleading, since the quoted information is supposed to represent an original thought from another person.


My current proposal simply entails appending “R#” to the unique update number of the original tweet (that status number could be pulled in automatically by the Twitter client so that users don't have to deal with it).  This may be clunky and not very readable, but as far as I can see it does the job.


Details and Use Cases:


In terms of solving the problem mentioned above (that of giving credit to all nodes along the path of a RT), this would provide a unique chain of updates which could somehow be logged in the future:

  • Original Writer: “Check out this amazing lolcat - http://…”
  • Retweeter 1: “R#1201420384 Hah, that’s amazing.” (now a program can trace back to the writer)
  • Retweeter 2: “R#1204235345 Wow, this is going to spread like wildfire!” (the R# links to the re-tweeted message, and through that, we can trace all the way back to the writer)

Comments on Application Integration


First example: Mike Krieger's "Retweet Helper", a Greasemonkey script that implement a similar functionality in the Twitter homepage (adds a "Retweet This" button to the web interface which inserts a tag of the form "twitter:status=tweet_id"


While this syntax may be clunky and perhaps not as human-readable as Stowe or Chris might be imagining for Microsyntax elements, it’s not really that much more clunky than staring at a twitpic URL, for instance, which Twitter clients now handle expertly.  Ideally, if this syntax took off, it could be integrated directly into clients such as Tweetie or Tweedeck, perhaps in a way that is similar to the way that Tweetdeck handles Twitpics, such that humans never have to worry about interpreting it.




  • 1) Ensuring that everyone in a conversation is credited, from the original writer to the most recent node who provided you the information.  I use the word ‘conversation’ now instead of ‘retweet’, since this syntax could extend beyond retweets to any sort of interaction on Twitter where one wants to refer to a specific tweet.  If I post a question to my followers, for instance, they could use this syntax to reply, thus helping people (or a Twitter client) easily trace back to the original question.
  • 2) Using these traces, we could trace an entire network of interaction and information spread on Twitter in a way that is currently not possible.  Researchers who currently look at retweets (such as Dan Zarella) can currently only do very shallow analyses such as searches on “RT” since there is no infrastructure to support this behavior.  A structured syntax for RT’s could provide a rich glimpse into the dynamics of information spread on Twitter.




Sanjay Kairam, Retweets and Microsyntax


Other RT Microsyntax Suggestions:

Guillaume Lebleu, A Qualified ReTweet Microsyntax Idea


Comments (4)

Stowe Boyd said

at 12:04 pm on Jun 6, 2009

Why the '#"? Seems to do nothing more that the 'R". Perhaps "Re" might be better?

sanjay.kairam@... said

at 7:41 pm on Jun 6, 2009

Well, again, I am sure there are plenty of better ideas for the syntax, but for some reason that just jumped out as me b/c R is more general than "RT" and because the # to me connotes that the number is purposeful?

Andy Mabbett said

at 3:03 am on Jun 8, 2009

R#2074589812 is not recognised as a hashtag by current tools (Twitter search; Dabr) but #2074589812 is; #twitter:status=2074604066 is generally recognised as "#twitter:status".

DennisStevenson said

at 9:30 am on Jun 16, 2009

Seems to me that increasingly this looks like machine:machine language, not human:human or human:machine. Sort of llike Tweetdeck prepends an "RT" when I click the retweet button (machine:human), clicking a button here would automatically generate this syntax and put it in the tweet. This would be relevant only if the corresponding twitter client could decipher the instructions and retrieve the appropriate referenced tweets - presenting (perhaps an extended string of related tweets) all relevant tweets into a single message of comments on comments on a tweet.

A couple interesting thoughts here.
1) This would allow the construction of messages greater than 140 characters, functionally making 140 the sending limit, but not the receiving limit.
2) This shifts the medium from independent messages to metadata about other messages.
3) This breaks the notion that each message is self-contained and now requires the connection of multiple messages to create context.

I can see how this would work in a properly featured client, but receiving/sending texts would be difficult to do this kind of thing (assuming twitter does not build this functionality into the core platform). It would also make the twitter website somewhat unintelligible. At a minimum, it would be necessary to have a linking convention on the website to allow the single tweet display metaphor to provide easy navigation back up the tweet chain.

Interesting thought!

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