Exposition on the Significance of the Retweet

I'm not a member of the IEEE, but I have ambitions that someday I'll speak with as much distinguished eloquence as these guys.

So here's my fancy paper:


Twitter is a valuable tool for marketing your business, but Twitter as a tool is a meritocracy, whereas only the most interesting of ideas will permeate concentric layers of user influence.


Twitter is a communication tool. Anyone can communicate their inane, wonderful and worthless thoughts. Those who choose to listen are called followers (or friends). Because followers choose to follow, they most likely know or know of the person they follow. What this creates is a "sphere of influence" around a Twitter user, hereafter known as a "tweeter" - see glossary, and my apologies to the audiophile community.

figure 1

T1's direct influence

In many cases, a tweeter may not know many of their followers. See figure 1. The tweeter T1 has a sphere of influence composed of followers F1 to F4.

When T1 sends a tweet, F1 to F4 receive this tweet. These followers also may have followers (F' [F prime]). F' is the second layer of influence. See figure 2. F1 has followers F'1 and F'2. F1 shares follower F'2 with F2. F3 has 2 followers (F'3 and F'4), and F5 has one follower, F'5.

figure 2 - T1's potential influence to F'

T1's potential influence to F'

If the tweet is interesting to a follower, or the follower feels it might be interesting one or more of their followers (F'), they can retweet (RT) (with T1's attribution) to their followers. This extends T1's tweet and existence into F'.

If a tweet is particularly interesting so much that it is retweeted through multiple layers of influence, we express this as a high-velocity tweet. The velocity of a tweet is proportional to its interestingness. However, interestingness is relative to the sphere of influence. A joke about pi (π) may have high velocity in some circles, yet may hit the wall in others. But tweets have a stochastic* retweet property. A typical tweet that you didn't expect to get retweeted may incur spontaneous velocity and permeate many influence levels.

Someone in F' may decide to follow T1 due to their interesting insight. They then move from F' to F (relative to T1). This is why retweets are important. See figure 3.

figure 3 - F'5 moves to F5

T1 attracts F'5 as a follower

If your tweets have enough velocity, they will reach deeper influence levels, and bring more followers to you. Such is the meritocracy of Twitter. If you are interesting, you will create a larger frontline sphere of followers. Once you have a larger follower group (F), you will have a larger F' sphere of retweet candidates, and the randomness that a common tweet will be retweeted to F' increases:

with 100 followers, a tweet with 0.5% probability (0.005) of being retweeted will be retweeted 0 times. Should you grow to 10,000 followers, the same tweet will be retweeted 50 times (10,000 x 0.005).

In the special case where F'2 receives the RT from both F1 and F2, they may see it as highly worthwhile to RT it into the third layer F'' (F prime prime).


Be more interesting.

  • stochastic = random. Ever since my days as an economics student, I've been waiting for the opportunity to use the word "stochastic".

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Addendum: I do plan to join the IEEE. Anyone want to MGM me?

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