The utility of any service, I am thinking is directly proportional to the slope of the degree distribution of its network.
When Twitter was first getting popular, it followed a power law in its degree distribution. A few people at the head, the rest distributed in an asymptotical curve downward, with fewer and fewer connections. In this type of power structure, retweeting made sense. It was a tool to progressively bubble discourse up the network to reach a wide distribution. A way of taking discourse out of a closed and small network, and open it up for seeding through the larger connectionist networks at will.
But as the power-law curve of connections on Twitter has now started flattening out, with more and more at the head, and more in the middle and a lot in the tail, retweeting is only serving to echo discourse that more and more people have already seen.
Today, nearly three quarters of the tweets I received were retweets. And most of those retweets I had already seen the original of. Just tonight, Facebook reverted their terms-of-service, and Mashable immediately tweeted it. Then four people on my follow list retweeted Mashable. Why? They have nothing to add, nothing to contextualize it, nothing to inform and nothing to say. They just say it.
I understand twitter is casual conversation, but it should be conversation. It should be people saying things, not resaying them. I understand the “collection” mentality that drives this. Here is something interesting: please also find it interesting. It’s the same culture that creates mix-tapes, makes DJ’ing such an amazing experience, makes us want to teach and inform people of things. But there are better ways of doing this.
It used to be people would curate links, provide meta-commentary and then drive quality content through that. Some people (Andy Baio, Jason Kottke) do this to great effect. But more and more, I’m seeing people that used to be noted for the quality of meta-discourse devolving into mirrors. And it’s mirrors upon mirrors.
Mirrors don’t add anything unless the quality of the glass is bad. And I’m afraid its becoming a veritable funhouse in Twitter land.
What I am most afraid of is what will happen during SXSW. I’m pretty much afraid to even look at Twitter:
@blah1: RT: @blah a party at Stubbs!
@blah3: RT: @blah1 RT: @blah a party at Stubbs!
@blah4: RT @blah3 @blah1 @blah a party at Stubbs!
I have a feeling while 2007 was Twitter’s coming out party at SXSW, 2009′s SXSW and the plague of retweeting is going to kill its utility for a lot of people. Me included.
Here are my suggestions then:
- Twitter – please add a retweet filter at the software layer, like how we choose notification methods
- Those that feel the need to retweet everything they find interesting, compile them instead into a twice-daily updated blog entry that you then tweet the URL to
- Anyone who has a retweet ratio greater than 50/50 people should unfollow. Or said people should setup a separate “retweet” account. Make it opt-in.
- People need to start being original again.