Rage is a common response when social media sites make minor tweaks to their services, and characteristically, Twitter's new retweet change is causing lots of outrage from users (Gawker headlined its post "Re-Tweet Redesign Helps the Rich Get Richer on Twitter").

Trying to solve some of the issues surrounding the "RT" functionality, Twitter has done away with it completely in favor of reposting a tweet from the original twitterer, with a link to the person who retweeted it (an example is above).

There are some drawbacks to the new approach, but helps Twitter do two things that will become increasingly important to its business model: track tweets and make them more reliable for professional users.

One of the main problems with retweets til now was that any user could rewrite them, or simply attach an important person's Twitter handle to any statement. By simply republishing the statement, Twitter ensures that users will only be associated with messaging that they have personally published.

There are plenty of issues with this. It will become harder to scan feeds, since the name of the person retweeting is much less prominent, which makes it harder for individuals to see who put a message in front of them. 

Meanwhile, users can no longer comment on a retweet, which changes the entire incentive structure of sharing someone else's content. However, that should change in subsequent iterations, as Twitter's CEO Evan Williams explains on his blog. Also, users can continue using the old "RT" nomenclature that has functioned to date.

On his blog, Evan Williams writes:

"The drawback is that it may be a little surprising (unpleasant even, for some) to discover avatars of people they don't follow in their timeline. I ask those people to keep in mind the following: You're already reading the content from these people via organic retweets. This is just giving you more context. My experience is that you get used to this pretty quickly, and it's a welcome way to mix things up."

But Twitter is interested in this new feature because it can pave the way for more professional usage of the service.

"Retweets potentially reveal very interesting data," Williams writes. 

Indeed, the feature provides a metric to rank tweets and subsequently the results of Twitter searches and Twitter users themselves. Twitter could sell this data, provided free by its users, companies and brands that want it. 

Meanwhile, protecting tweet content is important to making the service more reliable and useful in a longterm sense.

And paring down Twitter content to its most pertinent messages is a key to its survival.

Williams continues:

"Part of the beauty of Twitter is that you can follow your friends, organizations, public figures, or strangers you find interesting. But no matter how carefully you've groomed your following list, out of the millions of tweets written today, are you seeing the absolute most relevant ones to you? Or are you getting some good stuff, some stuff you don't care about, and likely missing a whole lot of other killer tweetage you don't even know is there?"

Meghan Keane

Published 11 November, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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