Twitter Feature Suggestion

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:

  1. This is great!
  2. Breaking news! (real)
  3. Breaking news! (ironic)
  4. Aww, something cute!
  5. I couldn’t have said it better!
  6. Retweet this please!
  7. This is a great article on the subject!
  8. This issue is important to me!
  9. I expect you to actually do something about this!
  10. This tweet is what is wrong with America/My Country/The World!
  11. I am retweeting this ironically
  12. Here we go again…
  13. Ha! Look at this idiot!
  14. Death to America!
  15. 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?

13 thoughts on “Twitter Feature Suggestion

  1. Tesh

    If something is offered without comment, perhaps it’s meant to stand on its own. Are we so addicted to punditry and commentary that everyone has to comment on everything?

    …though sometimes the most interesting part of blog posts and online articles is the commentary. *shrug*


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tesh – But isn’t retweeting something an implied comment, if nothing else a statement that the item being retweeted has (or lacks) value? And isn’t the choice of what one person chooses to retweet over time a statement in and of itself?

    I have trouble believing that, if one is true to ones self, one cannot detect a motivation of some sort for such an action.

    That a person may not want to disclose that motivation is, however, reasonable. I would happily add “Offered without comment” to the list!

    And yes, this was a troll for discussion, which I often find the more interesting part of the internet in general. And it is something I think that Twitter falls down on. Somebody just provided the spark this morning.


  3. scotth

    Personally, I find twitter to be of limited utility. There is just too much stuff there, much of which I am marginally interested in, and much of which is redundant. I have twitter on my phone, and it has been useful at times, but I almost never use it.


  4. Tesh

    Oh, there’s certainly a motivation, or else it wouldn’t happen, it’s just that guessing or even expressing motivation may well not be as interesting as the thought offered, and may well unduly color the offered content. “Offered without comment” would fit, perhaps.

    I’ve noted folks who will retweet things they disagree with one minute, then retweet things they agree with, no comment offered. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting something on record for later, or a sort of “social bookmark” for later discussion. There are a ton of motivations… but I’m not sure it matters.

    I’m not sold on the idea that it’s important *why* someone retweets something. I’d rather take what’s offered and evaluate *that*. That’s just my approach, though, to be sure.


  5. DM Osbon

    I think some of the beauty of Twitter is ambiguity. Not everything is suppose to be black and white and if you know the Tweeter well enough you should be able to work out the meaning behind their retweet without codes. Or you could just ask them in a tweet?


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tesh – I always try to evaluate motivation. The “why” is often more important that the “what” in my experience.

    But I have spent a lot of time working in large organizations, where office politics are a dynamic that cannot be easily dismissed. So I am a product of my environment. (I remain not very good at the subtle aspects of the routine though. I have been known to ask things like, “You’re just doing this to cover your ass, aren’t you?” in meetings in front of senior execs.)

    And I am a certified spastic retweeter, going from things I endorse to the laughably absurd and back again pretty regularly. Just yesterday I retweeted a tweet from Lord British (since deleted) where he obviously allowed something to access his account that told everybody he had made $271 reading ads on Facebook. And my motivations were more complex than you might suspect.

    @DM Osbon – And yet, people can take things the wrong way, even with flags. For example, I put a “humor” tag on this post and put up a very silly list of possible flags, and yet some people will think I am serious about this feature suggestion rather than attempting to make an awkward, half-assed stab at the main theme from the book “Mother Night.”

    Or maybe that “humor” tag is a double-reverse ploy, and I really mean it, but am just sending up a trial balloon!

    It is the internet. If something can be interpreted the wrong way, it will be, and it is not very good at all when dealing with things that might have layers of meaning.

    @scotth – I found that finding the right people to follow… based on their output, not your relationship to them… is they key to creating a useful Twitter feed.


  7. Aufero

    I loathe twitter and consider it a pervasive force for evil in our society, along with baseball and apple pie.

    (Not really. It has its points, I just have a hard time being anything but flippant and sarcastic when restricted to short sentences. It’s a personal failing, but it keeps me off Twitter.)


  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Aufero – I get that. Rare is the actual tweet from me. My feed is 80% links to posts on my two blogs, 15% retweets, and maybe 5% something I wrote, usually in response to somebody.

    Basically, if you read my blog, you know that 140 characters just isn’t my medium.


  9. DM Osbon

    @Wilhelm your right. I missed the humour tag and so feel a little silly. I do still think that if we are given all the info relating to a topic or tweet we can become complacent in our dealing with it.


  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @DM Osbon – I don’t know… I think I demonstrated another problem, which is you can give people all the data and they will ignore it.

    Oh, and yet another problem, which is people will pass bad data. Right? I mean, that humor tag could be a smokescreen. The “I can say outrageous shit if I append a smiley” defense.

    Plus, apparently I won’t just tweet back to somebody about a retweet with a simple, “Dude, WTF?” We learned that, too.

    Basically, written communication is a lot harder than it looks.


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