Better retweeting: a quick design proposal

Quick_retweet_design_public I like Twitter, I think they do good stuff. (I tweet as jreffell.)

I like retweeting, and it’s been fascinating to see Twitter’s community form the loose norms of the practice. It reminds me of the early use of PayPal by eBay sellers who preferred it to Billpoint, or (truly ancient history) some of the common practices of Usenet.

I’ve seen Twitter’s blog post about an upcoming retweet function, Mashable’s preview of what it might look like, and Dan Zarella’s critique of the design (ironically, I saw the last through a retweet). That sent me back to the Microsoft Research draft paper on Twitter practices (PDF), which I recommend highly. The numbers I use below are based on that paper, so keep in mind it is a draft paper and the data will have some limitations.

I basically agree with Dan’s critique, and hope that when Twitter does release the feature it will do so in a way which preserves current practices as much as possible.


  1. I think Twitter should preserve the current norm of seeing the identity of someone you’re following first, and the person you’re retweeting (whom you might or might not be following) second. I think it will be pretty jarring to see someone “slip” into your stream due to a retweet. The proposed design is also a little unclear around time — because the retweeted tweet is primary, and it might be from some time ago, suddenly it can look like an out-of-order post is in your stream.
  2. The MS Research paper showed 18% of users adding a hashtag to a retweet, and 11% contained additional text (usually commentary). I think these are useful practices and should be maintained if possible — the proposed Twitter design doesn’t allow for the addition of comments  or hashtags as far as I can tell.
  3. 11% of retweets contained an encapsulated retweet. There are two chunks of information that can be (they aren’t always) present in encapsulation — the different sources, but also the chain or sequence of sourcing. I think that’s interesting information!

I threw together a quick design based on these points. This was just a quick hack to see what I could come up with. I think my proposal preserves the practices of retweeting which might matter to people, while still taking retweeting from “just” text to be more embedded in the platform. The design assumes you are following me (jreffell) but aren’t following Bruce Sterling (bruces). I retweet a recent post of his.

Some caveats: The folks at Twitter are smart. I’m sure they’ve looked at designs very like this, and have reasons for not going in this direction (or, as they haven’t launched yet, they may still go in this kind of direction.) I haven’t thought about technical constraints or the API at all, and those are very important. I haven’t designed the “retweet button” itself — though I think the design I’ve seen would be fine if it simply included some space for adding commentary / hashtags.

If you were working on this feature at Twitter, how would you do it?

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