Twitter users have on more than one occasion invented their own new functionality for the microblogging service, and the developers have often taken the conventions and integrated them into Twitter’s core feature set. Originally the @reply concept was just that: a user-developed practice that evolved to fill a need. Twitter later adopted the standard and made it official, with reply tracking and other neat features.
The same thing happened for hashtags. People would append #sometag to their postings to make it easier to find event-specific tweets via searches. Twitter eventually acknowledged the practice and picked it up.
Now the same thing is happening to retweets. A retweet, in case you’ve been living in a cave without WiFi, is a convention that the Twitterfolk came up with in order to share a tweet with their own sets of followers.
You copy and paste the tweet, then append “RT @username” to attribute it to the original author. It’s fairly simple, and surprisingly effective. A retweet can virally spread pretty fast under the right conditions.
But now everything is about to change. With “Project Retweet,” Twitter’s official built-in retweet function rolled-out to everyone, the retweet is about to get a lot more interesting.
Now you can retweet a post simply by clicking a button. That’s all you have to do now. The original tweet will be added to your timeline, and displayed in a manner that attributes the tweet to the original author, while showing that you were the one who retweeted it. It’s easier, and a lot cleaner. You’ll only see a retweet once, instead of being inundated with the same repost from different users.
What’s not to like? It fixes most of the problems with traditional retweets, and makes it dead simple to share someone’s message. The only problem is that it takes one key feature away: the ability to add your own commentary. This is the reason that there has been some backlash over the new feature. Users often want to add their own two cents when they repost a link. Maybe they don’t agree with what’s being said, but want to say “Hey, look what @blahblah is saying…”
I agree with the sentiment that there should be a way to add commentary in certain instances. The solution, however, is not to continue using the old method of retweeting, continuing the problems clutter and unreliable attribution. The solution is new syntax.
Meet “slashtags,” a concept put forth by the creator of the hashtag.
If you want to pass along a link or some bit of information, but you don’t want to use an exact quote, you write your own tweet and say that the tip came by way of another user with “/via @theuser.”
There’s more though. You can /cc someone or use /by to attribute a quote taken from some other context to someone. Go and read up on the proposed “slash syntax” to see the full power of it.
Twitter is a living medium that evolves over time, and right now you can see it trying to adapt and improve. We’re in a transition period at the present, as many Twitter clients haven’t implemented the new retweet feature yet, so we’re still getting a sea of old-style “RTs,” but eventually everyone will be using the retweet button and /via for cases where a retweet isn’t appropriate.