Twitter is the wild wild west of social networking: no rules (except the 140 character limit), public by default, and it’s okay to eavesdrop and/or butt-in on other people’s conversations. Filtering between technical tweets, philosophical diatribes, humorous hashtags, and mindless chit chat is between you and your twitter client. But even gunslingers have a moral code, and giving credit to the originator of the thought is #1 on Twitter. Hence the rise of the retweet. Quoting, even electronically (hell, maybe especially electronically), is still the ultimate in flattery.
So if we were writing a term paper, there’d be a clear grammar rules on how to quote an author. The Elements of Style has yet to add a Twitter section, however, so community has created its own conventions.
RT vs. Via: Cage Match
While ‘RT:’ is the most common way to acknowledge another’s thought, I’ve also seen ‘(via @another)’. I’m not a fan of the latter, mainly because I’m a char hog. There’s no way I’m spending 6 of my 140 chars on a ‘via’ when I can spend 4 on a ‘RT:’. In a pinch, I can drop the colon on a ‘RT’ and get that bad boy down to 3.
But char count is not the sole consideration in my preference. If you’ve ever had to conform to specific rules of quoting in a school paper, you may have rationalized the insanely overdone formatting by acknowledging that it at least served a purpose: no one is going to mistake quoted material as your original thought. And therein lays trouble in the RT world: distinguishing the original tweet from your comment.
If most users read their tweet stream as I do, they work through the tweets, noting first the profile image of the poster, and then the content. By my way of thinking, an actual quote should acknowledge the break in thought at the beginning of the quote, with a ‘RT:’, not after the fact, with a ‘via’. By the time I reach a ‘via’, I’ve already associated the content with the retweeter, and must readjust.
Adding Your Take
Retweeters wishing to comment on a RT will usually then add some punctuation (usually >, but I’ve seen –, and the char hogging <<—) to the end of the RT to distinguish their comment from the original content.
While this distinguishes comment from the original tweet, I prefer the method of commenting first, and then repeating the quoted tweet on which I’m commenting. Of course, this means the reader will be reading the response before the original tweet, so the context of the comment is not clear until the end. Since I’m a wise cracker, I like this, and use it to my comedic advantage.
But even in serious tweets, the Comment First Method also seems more like natural conversation, especially when recommending something:
Excellent article! RT: @spgnome New Blog Post: “Freeing Your SharePoint Inner Child” http://…
But the Comment First Method really earns its keep in situations involving multiple retweets. Check this example of the traditional Comment Last Method. Note how we have to play ‘Match the Comment with the Author’, by looking for the comment at the end and the author at the beginning. Sort of like finding the matching opening and closing parentheses in a complex Excel formula. Hint: @Number1 posted first.
RT @Number 3 RT: @Number2 RT:@Number1 First!>Second Place!(always a bridesmaid!)<<Me Three!<<Go fourth and multiply! (get it?)
The Comment First version of this same exchange would look like this:
Go fourth and multiply! (get it?)RT: @Number3 Me Three! RT: @Number2 Second Place!(always a bridesmaid!) RT: @Number1 First!
What I like about the results of the Comment First Method is that each person’s contribution immediately follows their username, and the RT works as a section break between authors, without the need for unnecessary chars.