Renewable Energy

New Twitter feature: meta-tracking

Posted by Jeroen van Agt in OliNo Add comments

twitter-logoWe use Twitter te promote interesting news about renewable energy. The more I used Twitter, the more I see some limitations of the system. That may change now; Introducing a new Twitter feature: meta-tracking.

Would it not be nice if Twitter would introduce an option to track how many times a certain message is re-tweeted, who was the original owner of the message, show the tags of the message and a readable URL without the need to waste space in the content of the message for it.

Is this possible? Yes. It is called meta-tracking. Did Twitter already though about -or even started implementing this? We don’t know, but we hope by explaining the advantages of this concept in this article that they will do that soon.

If you like the concept, please tweet this article to your friends.


Currently Twitters supports several meta-tags for messages. Here are the most used ones:

  • Re-tweet messages, indicated by RT @username or via @username
  • Tags, indicated by #tagname
  • URLs, start with http:// and then typically followed by URL which is made small by a URL shortening service to save message space.


Meta-tags are embedded within the message itself. This gives several disadvantages

Lost message space

All these meta-tags are embedded in the message itself. The Twitter message has a maximum length of only 140 characters. Each meta-tags used will reduce the amount of space left for the message itself. When re-tweeting message the proper way to do it is to keep the original re-tweet author already in the message and add the last author in the message. Messages which are re-tweeted often are going to look like

RT author, RT user1, RT user2, RT user3 #tag1, #tag2 [small message] [tiny url]

So at some moment there is (quickly) no space left for the message itself or some of the RT autors/users need to removed.

Message becomes onreadable

All those meta-tags make the message unreadable. Wasn’t it the purpose of twitter to send clear and short messages.

No tracking

There is no way to track who was the original author of the message when a message is re-tweeted. If you are lucky the original author is still in the message as RT author. However, at any moment someone can remove this tag and the information is lost

Url not readable

Because nobody wants to waste valuable message space almost everybody is using URL shorteners which make the URL not readable anymore. So if someone receives a tweet with a url the receiver does not know what website he/she is going to be entered when clicking on the url.


The advantages below can be solved by introducing the concept of Meta-tracking. I do not know if this term already exists, but I had to come-up with a name to introduce a new concept.

Storing the original author

When a users send a message send a message via Twitter, the user has to have a valid Twitter account. Thus the Twitter system knows who is sending this message. By storing this information, attached as meta-tags to the message itself, this information will never be lost. The meta-tags are attached to the message but not visible in the message itself. We can visualize this data, but how to do that I will explain later. There is no message space lost.

Re-tweet author tree

When a user re-tweets this message there is no need to add the original author in the message itself, the Twitter system has already saved that information in the meta-tags. When the message is re-tweeted the new author is added to the list. The system can even build a tree of authors who re-tweeted this message in Twitter space.

Track popular messages

By counting the amount of authors in the meta-tags of each twitter message it become immediately clear what are the top twitter messages. Using Twitter API this number could be retrieved from the system and visualized on a website using widgets.

Message Quality

By voting a message 1 up / or 1 down the message can be rated. Together with the amount of re-tweets and the structure of the author tree, this could generate a quality number of the message.


Tags are also stored out-side the message space. So adding tags will not make the message less readable and wasting message space. This makes it also possible to do a boolean search on tags.

Readable URL

Because the url is stored outside the message space, the url can me made visible before clicking on it. There is no direct need anymore to use URL shorteners.


Here is how a a current Twitter message can look like
Click to enlarge

The Twitter message with meta-tracking could have the following layout
Click to enlarge

As explained, this is just a concept. I leave it up to the designers to find a good fontsize, colors, location of information. What is immediately clear is that the message space is more clear en easier readable. We can now use 140 characters for the message itself. We may have to introduce limits on the number of tags to prevent the Twitter system to overload, but that’s it.

Backwards Compatibly

The way to be backwards compatible is two fold. Clients using the older API still get their message rendered as before. The meta-tags are put back into the message itself. The user does not see any difference.

Older messages are parsed by the Twitter system and meta information is stored next to the message itself (internal storage twitter). New and old message can thus be stored in a similar way. Until a message is parsed the meta information is still in the message itself.

Reduction in storage

When a message is re-tweeted there is no need to store a new message in the system. It is already there. Twitter only has to update the meta-tags for the message. This could reduce their storage requirements.


A new API is introduced to retrieve the meta-information together with the message content. It is up to the client how to render this. This new API makes it possible to do a boolean search on tags, retrieve the amount of re-tweets for a message, vote for twitter message (once per user account), get the number of votes, the quality of the twitter message, re-tweet the message, etc….

It is up to you now

If you like this new concept, tweet the URL of this article to al your friends. Use the following tags #twitter_ideas, #meta_tracking. If enough people vote for this feature, Twitter may include it in their next release.

More ideas

Do have ideas or suggestions to improve this feature? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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