Twitter is offering a new way to quote other people's tweets. The new "re-tweet" feature is both less useful and more confusing than the ad-hoc system that preceded it. But that's OK, because it bolsters rich celebrities and dot-com millionaires.
Under the old rules of Twitter tradition, you "re-tweeted" another user by placing the letters "RT" before the quote and after any commentary you yourself added, like so:
If you use the new built-in re-tweet system, the original tweet would be copied into your stream under the byline of the original tweeter, like so:
The obvious problem: You lose the ability to actually say anything about what you're quoting if you use the new system. Also, all your followers are going to get a strange and potentially confusing avatar of someone they're not subscribed to in their stream.
On the bright side, this system is great for Twitter Inc. "Retweets potentially reveal very interesting data," Twitter CEO Evan Williams writes in a blog post about the new re-tweeting feature. Indeed, the feature offers a metric with which to rank tweets and thereby the results of Twitter searches and Twitter users themselves. Twitter could sell this data, provided free by its users, to the richest and most favored bidders, just like the microblogging startup did with the actual content of tweets.
The feature also helps Twitter's celebrity power users. Writes Williams:
RTs can actually be easily faked, which has become a form of spam, wherein well-known people are shown to be promoting something they never twittered about.
But, hey, if you don't like this new re-tweet thing that is so awesome for celebrities and Twitter Inc., you can always opt out. As Williams writes (emphasis from original), "you can turn off Retweets for everyone you follow (individually)." So just click "OFF" 200 times? Sounds super-easy!