Twitter's new RT Feature: What it means for News Industry and Influencers

As I am sure you've all seen the fairly new "retweet" (RT) feature released by Twitter, it has not been fully understood to date.  Influence on twitter was previously quite easy to track, but now with the new RT feature, it's becoming less clear who's influencing who.  For example, prior to the new RT feature a user would "RT" a tweet by simply copy/pasting the content like so: "RT @username: original content" (sometimes a comment was added too).  Then, the RT would be published out to the RTer's followers.  Some of those followers would then RT the RT, thus establishing a clear line of influence, stemming from the originating tweet and RTs (to a point, of course).

What the old RT model showed was a path of influence on twitter (and how information travels - interesting stuff for sure!).  Now comes the new RT feature and this "influence" model is completely disrupted.  No longer can we track who's RT'ing what.  It's been completely flattened out. So, folks who RT can no longer see who is RTing a post after them.  So we lose the whole influencer in the middle (middle man influencers).  Now it's all flat - just the original post and a lateral line to the RTs.  Whereas, previously we had the original post and a plethora of tangential RTs, with some fairly obvious track-backs, so to speak.

Why would twitter do this?  Two good reasons are potentially driving this decision.  First, data management and data storage optimization.  Second, establishment of twitter as an authentic news source (more on this in a bit).

Data management is a tricky proposition when a web startup takes off and begins to manage millions of records in their database(s).  The new RT feature is a smarter implementation at the database level.  Now with the new RT feature, the database could store just 1 original tweet plus a bunch of variable flags turned on/off (1 or 0) for the RT usernames versus the old RT model of originating tweet plus copies (e.g. 72 copies of that same tweet +/- variations thereof).  Thus, this is a very smart approach to shrinking the data footprint of RT content.

The whole "News industry" is currently undergoing a rapid change much akin to the industrial revolution.  Companies and jobs are folding every day as the old model of journalism is eclipsed by the new real-time web and emergent citizen-journalism model.  Twitter is a major component of this new version of "news."  Thus, it is in twitter's best interest to develop a trusted system for delivery of real-time news that is timely, reliable, authentic and trackable.  Since, the new RT feature preserves the originating author's name and content, this perfectly fits with the news model.  Now we can see who tweeted what without alteration.  That is a huge move towards authenticity on the web - a must for reliable and trusted news content.  Twitter is positioning itself to be the most trusted news source on the web and this new RT feature goes a long way to provide just that.

Originators of news on the web will feel this impact in a number of ways.  Specifically, if they are RT'ed, then their tweets will show "Retweeted by x and x others " (shows amount of RTs by users - think "reach" on the web).  For what I call the "middle man" influencers - the RTers out there - they will feel a negative impact as they no longer are associated with the originating content (and downstream RTs) as in times past.  Now, when a user sees a RT it just shows a pile of #s, so the middle man no longer benefits, i.e. their name is not associated with the originating post as it used to be (middle man influencers will see a drop in engagement levels based on RTs).

Overall, I think this is a fabulous move by twitter and applaude them for making the switch.  It's smart and disruptive.  I like it.  It shows twitter has smart folks at the helm who understand the web and the future of it very well.

For me, I will definitely  use the new RT feature anytime I want to preserve the original tweet author/content.  If I need to add something (and there's char space!) then I will add my 2 cents and RT that.  What's your take? Do you like or dislike the new RT feature?  Think of other reasons why twitter would implement this new RT feature and let me know what you see.  I'd love to hear all your feedback and ideas on this!