Thoughts on Rails

Riding the Train of Thought

What do you mean by RT on Twitter?

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While talking to a few friends ( @b50, @netra, @suddentwilight ) whom I know through Twitter, I was introduced to this amusing new concept of adding “RT” to your original tweet. For example, replying to a friend and adding RT after it. It’s an original tweet, not someone else’s and it doesn’t seem like it needs retweeting. It confused us all. So we talked for a while and realized what the whole deal was about. Here’s a dissection of the conversation we had:

Part 1:

Alright, first, some history: Twitter was a plain jane message broadcasting platform, you said something, people opting to follow your updates saw what you wrote. Then people started having conversations, and began tagging each other by adding a @ sign and their name, like “@hiway hi there” to publicly talk to the user hiway instead of using the other method, a private way to send a message to a single recipient: direct message, or commonly known as DM. Twitter picked up this idea and implemented it as @replies or “mentions”, so if a tweet contains your username with a preceeding @ sign, it will show up on your account.

Twitter users also realized that when someone that you follow says something profound, you feel like telling your followers about it. So we started using link shortners like tinyurl, bitly etc to add a reference link to the tweet we wanted to show our followers, but clicking on the link and opening browser/new tab just to see one tweet was cumbersome, especially for those using mobiles, so a cleverer method was found and accepted: adding “Via” / “ReTweeted” / “RT” along with the message and giving credit to the original author. So you don’t leave the twitterpage/client. For example:

SomeUser: I think you will love this tweet

RT: @SomeUser: I think you will love this tweet


SomeUser: I think you will love this tweet

 I did! I did! RT: @SomeUser: I think you will love this tweet
(Adding your own comment _before_ the RT)

or as

SomeUser: I found an interesting link!

This is curious: Via @SomeUser

This is what RT means to all of us old timers… Re-Tweet. When you take someone’s tweet and post it on your timeline with due credit.
Via is usually used when you rephrase the original tweet, but still wish to give credit to source (yes, you can steal from others, but giving credit is the right way)

Part 2:

What Twitter did next was implement an “in reply to” feature for replies. As we started following more and more people, and started tweeting a lot, the asynchronous and non-threaded nature of twitter started showing its flaws: in short, you could easily lose context of a conversation. What in-reply-to did was the same thing we were doing with RTs and for this purpose with replies… add a shortened link to the tweet that is being replied to.

SomeUser: This tweet is totally awesome!

@SomeUser: That’s soo true! [ http://sho.rt/link ]

The short link would take you back to the first tweet so the context of conversation was maintained. Twitter picked up this hint too and incorporated in-reply-to. So now we didn’t have to copy the shortened link every time we were replying to someone to maintain context – Twitter put that in the tweet automatically and showed a link along with the tweet.

Part 3:

As time went by, people realized that they could reach a larger audience if their followers ReTweeted their tweets, some people started soliciting RTs by adding “Please RT” or just a plain “RT” at the end of their tweets.


Part 3.1:

And @AshuMittal just gave me a heads-up on another way that people use RT – for a one-on-one conversation, while ReTweeting other person’s tweets and adding your replies in front of it.


SomeUser: I’m awesome!

 Yes you are! RT: @SomeUser: I’m awesome!

SomeUser: I know! RT: ImpressedUser: Yes you are! RT: @SomeUser: I’m awesome!

ImpressedUser: OMGOMG! RT: SomeUser: I know! RT: ImpressedUser: Yes you are! RT: @SomeUser: I’m awesome!

Using RT here has two purposes… first to maintain context of the conversation (as long as you talk mostly in monosyllables 😉 and second to broadcast a conversation between two people to everyone following you.

Part 4:

Now, somewhere in between, someone confused the in-reply-to with RT because RT sounds like shortened form of reply-to. Or someone mistook using inline RTs with replies to maintain context and they started writing RT after their tweets, expecting that by doing so, Twitter would add the in-reply-to link to maintain context. This is where I’d use the Hindi phrase: गई भैंस पानी में! // Gayee bhains paani mein. This is where RT went downhill.

This is what this post is all about!

So I request those of you who are using RT “to maintain context”, you need to do nothing, except click on the reply button next to the tweet you are replying to! That’s all. Use RT when you are Re-Tweeting someone else’s (or your) tweet.


I’ve not noticed as many people confusing RT and in-reply-to , but apparently there are a few who arrived late on the scene and have no clue of what’s going on. You could direct those misusing RTs to this page for some explanation or explain it yourself if feeling generous 😉

NOTE: Some text has been added since I first published it: Part 3.1 and second example in Part 1.

// Who am I to talk about this? Just someone who has been curiously observing Twitter (especially, in Indian context) since a while 😉


Written by hiway

January 9, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

One Response

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  1. i agree with the history, but not with the conclusion. replies were nice, till twitter started the stupid idea of only letting people who follow both users see the conversation. an RT is visible to ALL my followers, because i feel it’s something each of them see :)also, my RTs are usually when i have something to add to what the person said. if i just replied, only the person i’m replying to (and maybe a few attentive people who follow both of us and are tracking the conversation) will get the context. the RT lets me keep a limited amount of context to everyone who sees the tweet, at first glance.also, #newtwitter has ruined conversation view. you can only view the in-reply-to tweet, and nothing further. clients are better off, but then again…usual arguments apply 🙂

    Kristopher Noronha

    January 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm

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