Twitter made its new retweet function available to a limited number of users on Thursday, as it tests the new feature before rolling it out across its entire network. Retweets are just one part of what looks like a larger push by the self-proclaimed "information network" to make Twitter.com just as usable as the multitude of free Twitter clients out there like Tweetdeck, HootSuite and Seesmic. In addition to Retweets, the company also announced on Thursday that it would start editing its trending topics to make the feature more relevant, and last month Twitter launched a Lists feature allowing users to organize their Twitter streams.
Retweeting is just a fancy way of saying that one user has re-posted the message of another user. If you were following PC World on Twitter, for example, a typical retweet would look something like this: "PC World: RT @ianpaul trying out Twitter.com."
Twitter is aiming to improve retweets by highlighting the message creator as opposed to the user who is re-posting the message. So instead of seeing a tweet from the person you follow, the original tweet would show up in your Twitter stream with a small credit at the bottom to let you know who, among the people you follow, retweeted the message.
The new format will look something like this: "Ian Paul: trying out Twitter.com.--retweeted by @pcworld and three others." This is a great format since it will make it easier for you to discover other interesting people to follow based on what appears in your Twitter stream.
Curating Trending Topics and Lists
Trending topics allows you to see the ten most popular discussion topics on Twitter in real time. The problem is, this list can easily be overtaken by useless memes or pranks--remember the gorilla penis fiasco? Twitter wants to take a little more control over what can get onto its trending topics list by cutting out the noise and highlighting particularly useful or timely discussions. The company says you won't really notice anything at first, but it hopes to improve the relevance of this feature over time.
Another feature that recently became available to most users is Twitter Lists. This allows you to organize your incoming Tweets into categories like profession, subject matter, family members, and so on.
Twitter Wants You Back
While Twitter's new features like retweeting and the newly added lists feature are being made available to developers of third-party applications, Twitter's newest improvements also look like a serious effort to convince users to use Twitter.com instead.
Metrics firm ComScore consistently reports that about 20 million users visit Twitter every month. Add to that information from Tweet Stats (a third-party Twitter metrics site), which typically reports Twitter's Web traffic hovering around 30 percent of all Twitter usage, and you can see there's a huge base of regular Twitter users out there that never, or rarely, visit Twitter.com. If Twitter's future plans for monetization include increasing its Web traffic, it's not hard to see why the company has been so busy tweaking its own user interface in recent months.
Connect with Ian Paul on Twitter (@ianpaul).