2009/11/12

Twitter's NewRetweet and Darwinian Selection

A couple of days ago, I tweeted "I like Twitter's new Like feature. Just not sure why they called it Retweet."  Which is a bit snarky; @ev and the crew deserve more than 140 characters, because they've clearly put a lot of time and thought into this feature and it solves a lot of real problems. People have critiqued some of the superficial problems; I'd like to focus on just one core issue, which @ev also touches on, namely the inability to add commentary.  Which turns this into (as one re-tweeter remarked) a streamlined "propagate" feature.  This does let a meme propagate at the speed of Twitter and yet be coalesced for display purposes, and that's exactly the right thing for some memes.  In some ways it's a very democratic, Darwinian process; the tweets that are most likely to be NewRetweeted will undoubtedly get propagated more efficiently.

But there's another piece to Darwinian selection:  It's not just reproduction of the fittest, but reproduction with variations.  Sometimes, that's where the real value lies.  If you look at biological ecosystems, ultimately, it's where all the value lies.  That's where you get new ideas, by riffing off of other ideas, modifying them, and mashing them up.  Making this harder is, well, bad.

It's not like they haven't thought of this.  @ev does give some hints of future possibilities:
What about those cases where you really want to add a comment when RTing something? Keep in mind, there's nothing stopping you from simply quoting another tweet if that's what you want to do. Also, old-school retweets are still allowed, as well. We had to prioritize some use cases over others in this release. But just as Twitter didn't have this functionality at all before, people can still work around and do whatever they want. This just gives another option.
This ignores the change in affordances with NewRetweet.  Tools support ClassicRetweet today; I fear they're gearing up to switch over to the shiny NewRetweet, putting a barrier in front of users who want to propagate-with-comments.  It'd going to be even more confusing because they're keeping the name Retweet but taking a way an important piece of functionality.  We can't even talk about the differences without inventing new vocabulary — thus NewRetweet vs. ClassicRetweet.  I hope that reproduction-with-variations will not go the way of the dodo, but I fear that it will if the ecosystem continues on its current path.