The Origin of the Retweet and other Twitter Arcana

Narendra Rocherolle
6 min readMar 7, 2019

Sometimes you blink and a decade goes by. In this case, it is well on 12 years. I thought I would get this down on paper before I forget it all.

Twitter is certainly the oddest amazing story I’ve been able to witness up close in my 25 years in tech. It has been covered at length in so many places and in such detail since its surprise ascendancy at SxSW in 2007 that sometimes now it is hard to remember the first year when it was an aspiring SMS service that was missing a vowel. Back then, “tweet” or “tweeting” wasn’t a thing. You “twittered” and you actually thought extra hard when you did because you were sending a text to an unknown number of people and for some of those recipients that twitter SMS was a surcharge on their phone bill!

I’ve always adopted a stance Ev articulated well at some point — that “nobody actually invents anything on the Internet” recognizing that instead you build on what is already there. I distinctly remember the day when after watching Dick Costolo give a pre-IPO roadshow presentation I was struck when Chris Sacca introduced me to someone as the “guy who invented the retweet.” Sacca is a preternatural marketer. It was generous, innocuous, and very concise but it made me a bit uncomfortable because I am, well, pedantic. Nevertheless, I took (albeit uncomfortably) the moniker and assumed a form of creation myth which now years later I’d like to unpack.

Because, the thing is. I didn’t invent the retweet in use today.

Invention is a funny thing because it presupposes a bunch of notions of products or features as they exist currently and misses out on the herky jerky nature of product evolution. So for me it is more accurate to think of invention as original ideas or concepts that go through a design process until they mature (and really, then, you end up back with precisely Ev’s point).

For instance, Chris Messina is commonly identified with the hashtag invention. But when you dig deeper on the evolution of that Twitter feature you see that the concept of grouping objects by tag was well established by Flickr and delicious and what Chris really wanted was a mechanism to do that for twitters/tweets. He was sharp enough to propose a spec with the right character (#) to do that!

Narendra Rocherolle

Co-Founder of Peck. Other: Webshots, 30 Boxes. Early to Twitter and originator of little things like the retweet.