Hey, you lazy bastards. You’re breaking Twitter.
That’s the take-away I got from an article by Steve Rubel, Re-Tweets Comprise Two Percent of All Twitter Volume [Alas! Rubel has decided Tumblr is the new Shiny Object, and has deleted the site containing this article] . Rubel ginned-up some numbers estimating that about 1.9 percent of Twitter’s total traffic is made up of messages simply quoting other messages. The dreaded re-tweet.
Rubel is a bright guy, but I couldn’t help comparing his estimate to a random sample of Lighter Footstep’s Twitter stream. I clicked back through 20 pages of tweets, which represented a little over half an hour of Sunday night traffic. Out of 400 tweets, 7 were re-tweets. That works out to about 1.8 percent, which earns Mr. Rubel a cookie. Now we know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.
Sort of. At least 4 of the re-tweets were poking fun at Rubel’s article, which had just published. Oh, well: Take an unscientific survey, and you’ll get unscientific results.
Is re-tweeting a bad thing?
Depends who you ask. Rubel compares re-tweeting to what he calls the Lazysphere, the “echo chamber” effect obvious in tech blogging (and Green publishing, for that matter). A few comments on Rubel’s article take a harder line, including one FriendFeeder who fretted that re-tweeting will “kill Twitter’s mainstream adoption or confine it to a marketing broadcast channel.”
But re-tweeting emulates how we communicate in the real world. Think of all the times you’ve heard something, then passed it along to others. This behavior is more than laziness: it’s how we collectively process information.
Too legit to quit
We couldn’t help it if we tried. Twitter is essentially a group narrative, and repetition is an important part of storytelling. As anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss pointed out, storytelling (which he called mythology) is a universal human trait — less a manifestation of culture than its foundation.
Which speaks to Twitter’s overall health. Rather than being a defect, re-tweeting is the sort of thing you’d expect from a dynamic culture. It’s not laziness. It’s creativity.