The Williams Defense: Twitter CEO Defends Retweet Functionality

Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, has taken to his personal blog to defend the new, official implementation of Retweeting. The main problem that people have with Twitter’s system is that Retweets do not appear as Retweets. Instead, Twitter inserts the original Tweet from someone you may or may not be following.

Williams essentially says that change is good and users need to embrace it:

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. If you find someone constantly throwing people in there you don’t like, as mentioned before, you can turn off Retweets from them (while still following their non-retweets). And if you really don’t like it, and you only want to see what people you follow wrote themselves, you can turn off Retweets for everyone you follow (individually). Organic RTs do not offer nearly this flexibility.

Unfortunately, this seems like creating 2 solutions for 1 problem. If you have a problem with someone Retweeting too much, why not *just* create the ability to turn off their Retweets? Additionally, if these Retweets are so unwanted, then isn’t displaying them as organic Tweets from strangers making the problem worse?

Williams said in his post that it was easier to read an original tweet than a Retweet – and especially the Retweet of a Retweet. But most people are looking to scan their feeds quickly. When you see the avatar and screen name of someone unfamiliar to you, it disrupts a quick read of Tweets. Sure, the brain will adjust somewhat and speed up the new process, but I can’t imagine it truly being faster than scanning Tweets from people you’ve chosen to follow.

Another reason Williams cited was that it’s annoying to see a string of Retweets in a single Tweet, the aforementioned action of Retweeting a Retweet. But Twitter only allows 140 characters, which limits the ability to really do this. And again, if you’re annoyed when people do this, simply turn off their Retweets or don’t follow them at all.

Last but not least, the new system doesn’t allow users to make their own comments on a Retweet. Here’s Williams’ defense:

The other thing some people will not like is that, unlike organic RTs, there’s no way to annotate or leave your own comment when you retweet something with the new system. Some people annotate with every retweet, some don’t do it at all. But it’s definitely useful in certain scenarios. We left it out of this first version mostly for simplicity. It’s especially tricky when you consider transports like SMS where adding a lot of structure or additional content is hard. But we have some ideas there, and it’s possible we’ll build that in at a later date. (This point should not be missed.)

I’m glad they’re still considering putting this functionality in. That it was hard is not the greatest defense. They probably should have waited until this was ready to roll out the Retweet feature, especially when they were changing up the way Retweets are displayed in the first place.

It’s nice to see Williams addressing reservations that people have about the new system. However, in this case, I’m not sure the reasoning truly answers critics’ concerns.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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