picture credit: kenworker 推友團在世界遺產吳哥窟前示範「銳推」Taiwanese twitterers showing us how to "retweet" in Angkor Wat
Warning: If you haven't used Twitter or other microblogging services before, this post which focuses on citation issues will likely put you off completely. It deals with only one aspect of microblogging activity, albeit an important one, but it is quite possible to lead a happy and healthy life without ever retweeting (RTing) anyone, or being an RTer, ever.
If however you get to the end of this post thinking, blimey Josie, you haven't begun to scratch the surface of this fascinating and vital issue, then why not treat yourself to the even more detailed danah boyd, Scott Golder and Gilad Lotan review paper Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter.
As anyone who's spent five minutes thinking about publication and referencing styles will have concluded, while format is important, constancy is critical. Twitter and microblogging are still very much environments in process, with Twitter in particular currently having a kickass impact on the social web, from blogging practices to social network service functionality to real time reporting. Like any online community, what is acceptable, in terms of all kinds of behaviors, is negotiated between and within networks of users.
Linkage is emerging as an important currency and network tool amongst microbloggers - especially since Twitter removed users ability to view the posts people in your network direct to people not in your network, aka #fixreplies
so for example, if
It won't appear in my twitterfeed (the stream of posts I get from the combined posting of everyone I'm following), unless I am also following @yiannopoulos.
Obviously an rss feed, or a twittersearch by name of an individual users twitter feed, like the one in my left hand sidebar, will reproduce all posts regardless. However, unless you are stalking or otherwise have a special interest in a particular user, the likelihood is that you'll never see links to and conversations outside of your network, even though these may be some of the most valuable to you.
The way around this, for people who want to make conversational posts public within Twitter or within Twitter readers is to use any character before the @ symbol, the most elegant probably being a full stop, ie:
Some Twitter readers have problems converting .@ into links, so you'll notice in my example I leave a space between the full stop and the @, since I can afford the extra character. The value to the network isn't in the recognition - simply the giving of the name - it's in the link - the ability to click straight through to another users twitter stream, quickly review their content and interest, RT their content or add them to your follower list.
However, 140 characters - the limit of an individual post on Twitter, only accommodates so much kudos. What happens when you stumble across a post with more RTers than you can fit? For example:
The convention I'm using in this example is to put RT in front of everyone who has retweeted the post so far. This clears up, for example, someone in that chain who may have been addressing themselves to one of the others. For example:
could imply that @mattlingard sent the RT to @josiefraser. I'm also using : to indicate the origional poster. Again, there are a lot of different ways to retweet, and I'm not suggesting my preference is any better than any other. But suppose I now want to retweet the whole message:
Or - about 20 characters too many. There are four ways around this (probably more - please let me know).
1. Don't RT, just favorite. This will show up in your followers twitter stream, although not yours - i.e. it won't be non-manually exportable but it will be saved to your twitter favorites for later reference. I don't tend to do this, since I'm kind of mean with my favorites.
2. If the same story/link has turned up across several different groups of people you follow, I tend to give up and just put "lots of people are posting about x today," or words to that effect. I figure once more than ten people have posted the same link, and unless there is a clear origional poster, it's best not to spend too much time worrying about on it.
3. edit content. Sacrifice pithy comments or indications of content for names and links. With cunning use of one of the internets many url shortening services, you could probably credit six or seven people. on the downside, this is going to look like a very boring and inexplicable link, so people probably won't bother clicking on it.
4. Cut out some of the RTers. I posted an intention this morning kickoff a new convention for posts with multiple RTers, roughly based on accepted academic practice, which is to use the et al as a heads up that other people were involved in getting the information to you. Obviously the main difference is that unlike an academic citation, where you can actually go somewhere and find out who the other contributors were, you can't necessarily do that on Twitter so you may well be consigning some people to the black hole of anti-kudos. I suggested that the person that I got the RT heads up was the last person to tweet, and or the person I read the information from. This is important, because although I might be following several people in the RT string, the serendipitous nature of twitter - the large amount of people followed, posts made, combined with ad hoc access (like most people I guess, I tend to dip in and out of my twitter stream) means that even though I might follow one person, I might not necessarily get the information directly from them, but via a third, fourth or fifth party retweet. So my amended RT would look like:
Immediately the academics and information professionals in my stream objected to this, and quite rightly so, pointing out that the important person in terms of referencing should be the originator. I broadly agree with this, although it's often not so clear cut, since people bring information into twitter typically without referencing external sources. This means I may well have several independent citations or comments from unconnected sources. However, this isn't supposed to be a hard and fast rule, but a useful convention to fall back on where appropriate.
I put the three most plausible conventions to the vote, along with an open field for other suggestions. You can go vote yourself and check out the current wisdom of this particular crowd, but at time of writing the preference, given some mitigating factors, is clearly
RT @(origional source) via @(my source) or, as I'd interpret it
with RT @(origional source) or
Favored in case of minimalism or if there really wasn't enough room. Not entirely happy with this last one, since it still doesn't indicate multiple posters.
Thanks to @jont @goatgirl74 @encratica @Eingang @sarahhorrigan @RecordedBooks @timdifford @shirleyearley @traceymadden, @paulbrichardson, @MarkRussell, @lyndsayjordan, @amcunningham for taking time to talk about this with me over at Twitter today. & cheers to everyone fr the RTs!