Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Man Who Built The Retweet

Alex Kantrowitz (Hacker News):

After the retweet button debuted, Wetherell was struck by how effectively it spread information. “It did a lot of what it was designed to do,” he said. “It had a force multiplier that other things didn’t have.”

“We would talk about earthquakes,” Wetherell said. “We talked about these first response situations that were always a positive and showed where humanity was in its best light.”

But the button also changed Twitter in a way Wetherell and his colleagues didn’t anticipate. Copying and pasting made people look at what they shared, and think about it, at least for a moment. When the retweet button debuted, that friction diminished. Impulse superseded the at-least-minimal degree of thoughtfulness once baked into sharing. Before the retweet, Twitter was largely a convivial place. After, all hell broke loose — and spread.


A platform could revoke or suspend the retweet ability from audiences that regularly amplify awful posts, said Wetherell. “Curation of individuals is way too hard, as YouTube could attest,” Wetherell said. “But curation of audiences is a lot easier.”


MIT’s Rand suggested another idea: preventing people from retweeting an article if they haven’t clicked on the link. “That could make people slow down,” he said. “But even more than that, it could make people realize the problematic nature of sharing content without having actually read it.”

Update (2019-08-01): Om Malik:

My takeaway from the Buzzfeed piece — and maybe I am missing something — was that optimism blinded the Twitter team. They were swept away by their desire to grow and keep the engagement up.

This is easy to do in the technology ecosystem, because there is a faint regard for history of any kind, be it cultural and technological. This bias is not necessarily incorrect — it is impossible to invent the future if you aren’t predisposed towards doing so. It takes an insane amount of optimism and self-confidence to think you have an idea about what the future should look like. But it takes more than that to be the one who actually made it happen.

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