I have been very interested over the last two years at how powerful a communications device Twitter can be. There are a number of serious news stories that I came to learn about first on Twitter. Events like the raid on Osama bin Laden and the death of Steve Jobs first came to me via Twitter.
And smaller events too, which can be anything from game updates to the birth of a child.
Congratulations Syp. Nice Game of Thrones reference there.
Twitter has become part of my news cycle.
I follow a range of people who are more prone to passing on links and information rather than pontificating. I find Twitter much better suited to that and tend to shun people who try to use it as a broadcast IM channel or who try to run question and answer events. (I’m looking at you SOE.)
And one of the most powerful tools in Twitter is the retweet. Via this you can take a tweet you have read and rebroadcast it to the people who follow you. This is what gets messages out, this is the amplifier that can move a news story across the world in a matter of minutes.
Basically, you don’t have to follow everybody, you just have to follow people who watch areas in which you are interested and who know how to retweet the key items. I could follow a dozen or more free speech advocates on Twitter, but I don’t. I only follow Ken over at Popehat because he follows those people and retweets the key items.
It is the modern day phone tree for information if you can find the right people to follow.
The problem is that people will retweet things for different reasons. Sometimes a retweet is a matter of wanting to pass along important information or an interesting article on particular topics, and sometimes a retweet is a matter of public mockery. Or humor. Or irony. Or something else that strays from a direct endorsement of the material being retweeted.
That is what I have to conclude was going on when I saw this retweet this morning.
Chuck Woolery, a game show host probabbly best know for his time on Love Connection and being the guy before Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune, says that people born as US citizens are whiners. Thanks Chuck! I see you were born here, and you appear to be whining as well, so we’ll call that another point in your favor.
You can try and read things into that tweet. Is he pro-immigration? Does he simply feel Americans should appreciate their country more? Is he sure the US is so perfect that nobody has a legitimate reason to complain about anything? Or is he just a fussy old man telling the kids to get off his damn lawn in his own special way?
I hold no brief for Chuck Woolery, and cannot interpret his real meaning. So I have to go with the face value proposition that he called a lot of people, including him and I, whiners. Go Chuck.
At best this is somebody attempting to express a complex concept in a medium that really only lends itself to the simple. At worst, it is more of the bumper sticker philosophy that pretends to add to the national discourse while actually being empty of any message more complex than, “America; Love it of Leave it!”
But the real point here is that somebody I follow on Twitter felt the need to pass this along, and I cannot tell why.
A simple retweet just sends the original message along to you. And while there are options to add your own comment, you are still restricted to the 140 character limit of the medium. So you can get the original message, but the intent of the retweet… be it informational or simple mockery… remains opaque.
So my feature suggestion is to add a method to characterize the nature of the retweet. It could be as simple as a little icon in the corner that you can mouse over to get the mood of the retweet. Twitter could probably come up with a dozen or so options to cover most of the uses on Twitter.
I suggest the following as a starter list:
- This is great!
- Breaking news! (real)
- Breaking news! (ironic)
- Aww, something cute!
- I couldn’t have said it better!
- Retweet this please!
- This is a great article on the subject!
- This issue is important to me!
- I expect you to actually do something about this!
- This tweet is what is wrong with America/My Country/The World!
- I am retweeting this ironically
- Here we go again…
- Ha! Look at this idiot!
- Death to America!
- Ron Paul 2012!
That is my proposal, my first pass cut at a list that would cover most situations.
Did I miss anything? What else should be on the list?
And what do you think should have been the flag for that Chuck Woolery retweet?