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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

There are several different kinds of retweet (RT) used in Twitter and the software appliations - such as TweetDeck and HootSuite - that have emerged in the wake of the service's surge this year to broad popularity. I've decided to classify retweets here.

If you were to ask me when RTs first started to appear, I couldn't tell you. The story is there to learn, however, and one day maybe I'll find out and write about it. But I do remember that RTs began to be used by users without any prompting from Twitter. Like a lot of web innovations, it just happened to become a convention.

So what is a RT? It's when another person, who sees and likes a tweet you made, repeats the tweet with or without modification. Because a different set of people follow the other person, the benefit to the person who wrote the initial tweet is that a lot of new eyes will read his or her words. This can lead to new 'follows'.

And getting 'follows' is a main part of what motivates people who use Twitter.

So RTs are a method of dissemination of information. If the initial tweet contains a link to other content, and that content is interesting or unique, you can get a cascade effect, whereby several people RT the tweet.

So, to the matter at hand then.

RT 'simple'

The RT 'simple' is a simple RT without any modification or added comment. It's an easy concept to grasp, so I'll just give an example:

RT @macloo: Seeking tips to teach storytelling - NOT reporting - for journalism. Pls. help w/ links. Pls. RT.

It's not immediately obvious from looking at this example that no modification at all took place. I simply RT'd because the tweet was short enough that no trimming was required. Trimming may be required, since RTing adds the tag of the tweet's initiator, which consumes characters. With a maximum limit of 140 characters, some simple RTs need to be trimmed or edited for brevity.

RT 'qualified'

A 'qualified' RT is one where you've added some text - usually at the head of the RT - to comment on it before tweeting it out to the world. In other words, you've qualified the RT. Again, it's not a difficult concept to grasp, so I'll straight away insert an example:

Could be worked into a great feature story. RT @CharlieBeckett: Is Social Media Enterprise Changing China's Politics? http://bit.ly/JCm2n

In a qualified RT the initial tweet may have been - in fact most probably has been - edited for brevity, to fit the 140-character limit.

In the case shown here, I've simply added a few words with my ideas about the content contained in the link appended to the tweet. But I made sure to conserve part of the original tweet along with the link and, of course, the tag of the originator.

RT 'modified'

RTing is a type of publishing, and so you want to be careful that you do not associate yourself with content you disagree with or otherwise object to. For this reason, the 'modified' RT comprises a complete rewrite.

You need to include the link contained in the original tweet, and you also want to make sure you acknowledge where it comes from, but you just don't like the text that was associated with it. Maybe it was stupid - in your eyes - or maybe it was simply not accurate. You decide what you tweet. Here's an example:

Editorial laments print media's crisis, deplores quality of language in social media http://j.mp/2dVqNA (via @jeffsonderman)

Here the tag of the tweet's originator is still visible, but it's not at the head of the tweet any more, but at the tail. The verb 'via' is used to indicate the nature of the tweet, and the relationship of the person whose tag appears, to the tweet you have made. I use brackets, as shown here, but they are optional. Instead of 'via' you can employ a synonym such as 'from'.

RT 'radical'

This is dangerous territory. A 'radical' RT can come in different forms, but most commonly it is where you appear to make a simple RT but, in actual fact, you have heavily modified the original tweet's content. I'll insert an example as well as the follow-up to show how a radical RT can ruffle feathers.

Incidentally, a radical RT can be inadvertent. If you omit the tag of one person in a series of RTs using the same content, you can attract ire without even doing anything apart from not including a single tag.

What I want to show here, however, is something else entirely. Watch. First, the original RT from a person whose tag I will edit out here.

RT @Lynchy: Aussie TVC director Wayne Maule killed in Thailand-much admired and loved, another tragedy for the industry http://bit.ly/SgBGa

Then there's my radical RT:

Unfortunate phps. Regrettable, sure. But a tragedy? RT @###############: Aussie adman killed in Thai road accident http://bit.ly/SgBGa

It's a mixture of a qualified and a modified RT, with the added element of one of the originators' tags being removed. This mixture of elements caused the most-recent originator to object:

@matt_dasilva You've edited my retweet. It wasnt me that said that. If you RT, make sure you can still show where something originated eh?

Naturally, I apologised. But it goes to show that radical RTs can be problematic as they may be a surprise to the previous person involved in the chain of content publication. People are very aware of how they exist in Twitter, and any RT will certainly be noted by the originator.

I've put this summary of types of RTs together for my own benefit, and to further the process of description and classification that always occurs when a new phenomenon is observed. Twitter is a fascinating phenomenon, and there are more people every day who choose to participate and join the conversation.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post.

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