Death to Retweets!

Live Tweeting News shows is fun, but existing Twitter clients don’t always make it easy to stay engaged.  This is the first of series of articles on the unique challenges of live tweeting and how they’re overcome in the TweetWatch.TV application.  To see how the application handles the challenges yourself, give the app a try.  It’s free and runs in your browser so there’s nothing to install.

Retweets are a great feature of Twitter — it allows you to see updates your friends think are especially noteworthy.  And it helps you discover updates and authors you might not otherwise come across.  It’s a part of what makes Twitter “social”.

But even though retweets are a fantastic part of Twitter, when I built the live tweeting application I made it easy for users to turn off seeing retweets:

Why did I do that? What made me think that turning off a core feature of Twitter is a critical requirement for a live tweeting application?

The reason is the speed of tweeting during a show.  Take MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” as an example.  On average there is about one new tweet every second while it’s on the air.  And that’s just the average speed — at times it can go a lot faster than that.  Normally, people get several tweets an hour, not several a minute.

That’s a tremendous volume of tweets, and it makes it very hard for anyone to keep up with the flow as they scroll by.  You many want to easily browse the feed, but at that speed it can become uncomfortable.

Retweets represent a huge fraction of the live feed.  If you hide them, it slows the live feed (in the case of the Ed Show) to around one new tweet every 2 seconds.  That’s still very fast, but it is a significant improvement in how much time you have to skim each one.

Do you lose anything by not seeing retweets?  Normally, yes. Retweets are a great way to discover new content: it’s like having all your friends curate the content of Twitter for you!  If you don’t see those retweets, you miss a lot of what makes Twitter fascinating.

But when you live tweet an event, the value of seeing retweets becomes strongly negative!  One reason is that you’re are probably not as interested in what a random person thinks worthy of a retweet.  But a second and more important reason is that most of the retweets made during a show are retweets of stuff you’ve seen already.  You don’t need to see these retweets; it’s intended for that person’s followers, who presumably aren’t live tweeting the show.  But for you, it’s just clutter.

But there is an exception: when a retweet mentions you!  It is always interesting to know when somebody is talking about you. So while the application allows you to easily hide retweets, it never hides them when they mention you.

When the tweeting gets very fast, hiding other retweets helps you focus on messages which are new and interesting — and make the Twitter experience that much more fun.  Being able to hide retweets is a killer feature of a live tweeting application!