Saying More With Fewer Characters: A Modest Proposal for a Twitter RT Taxonomy

Fellow Ontario lawyer and blogger Antonin Pribetic tweeted the following earlier this evening:

An RT taxonomy: RT+ (agree), RT- (disagree) RT= (indifferent), RT? (confusing), RT± (undecided), RT☀ (interesting), RT! (check this out!)

I really liked the concept and retweeted it. In a Reply to me, Antonin asked me if a RT without comment was a tacit endorsement. In a reply to him, I agreed that this was the case, and I asked if the taxonomy he proposed was his. Antonin indicated that @Charonqc had proposed RT+ and RT- at some point in the past and that he had added to the list. A quick Google search failed to turn up something similar.

Most Twitter users will appreciate that trying to say things in just 140 characters can be a challenge. Using one extra character (or perhaps a few characters) to add some universally recognized comments or context to a RT would be very helpful. Some comments on how I compose tweets will explain why.

Most of the time, I try to tweet or RT things that I think my followers will find helpful or interesting. The best endorsement a tweet or RT can get is a RT by one of your followers. On the less interesting side, I do occasionally tweet personal comments or pictures that rarely get retweeted (but they do get occasionally DMs). In either case, helping people filter content by giving them a bit more context would be great.

In terms of length, I prefer to have tweets that are about 100 characters long (or shorter if the message is all there in fewer words). This means anyone retweeting my tweets will not have to make any edits after their name is added and it makes sure my original message gets through without changes. I generally avoid tweets that are longer than 140 characters because I think many people don’t see/read them as many of the Twitter apps don’t display all the text in a longer message. Anything that keeps tweets shorter would be helpful.

I do add comments to RTs, usually to strongly endorse the content. Most frequently I will say “A must read” or “Great content” or something similar. I think this is important as it helps my followers filter things and will let them zero in on the high value content. I usually put my comments after the comment and URL that were in the original tweet. Having enough space to make a comment if frequently a challenge. Again, having a way to say things by adding an extra character or two would be great.

Now, some comments on Antonin’s proposed taxonomy. I really like the agree, disagree, interesting and confusing suggestions. They are simple and obvious. They would be helpful for me, and I think they would be helpful for my followers.

I’m not sure I’m keen on the indifferent option as I’m really not sure I want to bother my followers with something I’m indifferent about. Perhaps there would be things I feel indifferent about but that I might still think my followers might otherwise find helpful or interesting, but I can’t think of any at this late hour.

I don’t mind the undecided (Is undecided that different from indifferent?) suggestion, although I’m suspicious that special characters might not be available (i.e., on the keyboards) or display properly on all computer and smartphone platforms.

Am thinking that check this out is not all that different than interesting. As such, I’m wondering if having RT! indicate that something is “must read” would be more helpful.

I find that I sometimes have to edit the original tweet for length (because it is too long as a RT with my Twitter handle added) or for content (because the wording poorly describes the content in the link or I want to put a bit of a different spin on the tweet and still acknowledge the original tweet and tweeter). To do this I suggest we add RT~ to this taxonomy.

Perhaps adding a few similar charaters could indicate the degree of the comment. For example, RT++ means really agree, RT– means really disagree.

I do occasionally add emoticons to my tweets, again, usually after the original content with or with additional comments of my own. To more effectively communicate feeling or emotions about the tweet perhaps we could also use some of the common emoticons in conjunction with the RT to impart other statements or emotions. For example, RT:) for a happy tweet, RT:( for a sad tweet, and so on.

Thus, as a proposed taxonomy, we now have:

RT+ (agree),
RT- (disagree)
RT? (confusing)
RT± (undecided)
RT* (interesting)
RT! (a must read)
RT~ (original tweet was edited)
RT:) (a happy tweet)
RT:( (a sad tweet)

Please share your thoughts, comments and suggestions on the above.


  1. Merrilyn Astin Tarlton


  2. Brilliant, Dan. Hope it takes off. Just a caveat: some apps (like Twitter’s desktop app on a Mac) will not give you the chance to amend (or emend) at tweet when retweeting—it just goes out as the original. You have to tell it you want to “quote” the tweet. Then you have to take off the wasteful quote marks.

  3. Antonin I. Pribetic

    Thanks Dan.

    The RT Taxonomy idea was inspired by a Twitter exchange yesterday between Scott Greenfield, leading New York criminal defense lawyer and blawger at Simple Justice(Twitter: @scottgreenfield)in reply to “Gideon”, a Connecticut blawger and public defender, Gideon (Twitter: @gideonstrumpet):

    @gideonstrumpet I agree with you, that a RT w/o comment is an endorsement. You don’t share w/o comment unless you agree. It’s not neutral.

    The original topic was tweeted by Venkat Balasubramani, Seattle internet tech lawyer @VBalasubramani

    thumbs down to this whole debate..Why A “Neutral Retweet” (#NT) Doesn’t Work: (via @SocialTimes @Mediabistro)

    The foregoing is an illustration of what science fiction author, William Gibson (Twitter: @GreatDismal) has dubbed “Attribution Decay“:

    Attribution Decay occurs when successive RTing strips out the original twitter. Sometimes I watch it happen.

  4. I tested out RT+ yesterday, which resulted in someone retweeting it with RT++. I thought that was interesting, and a natural extension.

  5. Some nice ideas. I’m also not convinced of the value of the “indifferent” option – as you say, why would you bother to retweet something you were indifferent to? Of the others, I can see how they would be useful, but I don’t think I’d be likely to use much more than just RT+ or RT-. The others feel like they’d need some explanation, which would make me less likely to use them.

    A small point on your suggestion for RT~ (original tweet was edited) – I’ve started to see lots of people us MT to indicate when they’ve done some editing before retweeting. MT= Modified Tweet. This seems more obvious to me, and has the advantage of being one precious character shorter!