Embedding Tweets: A Good Idea?

Twitter, through its media blog, recently announced that it is making it easy to embed tweets into your site, the way many already add YouTube clips or audio from various sources.

The idea is fairly simple, you visit Twitter’s experimental “Blackbird Pie” page, paste in the full URL of the tweet (it ends with /status/########) and Twitter creates a block of HTML code that you paste into your site.

But is this something that users of Twitter really need? Though tweets are often cited in long articles, including this one pointed out by Twitter on ReadWriteWeb, the process has worked fine before and alternatives already exist.

Though I can’t say for certain how popular this feature will be, I can definitely see reasons why those who wish to quote and the Twitter users they pull from should cheer this move. However, there are also a few concerns that have me a bit worried about using this service.

How it Works

As mentioned above, all you do to use the service is find the URL of the tweet you want to cite, paste it into Twitter’s Blackbird Pie page and then insert the generated HTML into your post. Here are two samples.

First, the very first tweet from my significant other’s Twitter account for her new art blog.

New post: Blue – Orange Abstract 1 https://cli.gs/SWVLqless than a minute ago via WP to Twitter

Here is one from my friend and Copyright 2.0 Show co-host Patrick O’Keefe’s Twitter stream:

“Managing Online Forums” now has 5 reviews on Amazon.co.uk. May not sound like a lot, but it is. Thanks! https://bit.ly/beRzj9less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Finally, here is one twitter user @iLoveCopyright:

RT @CopyrightLaw “Library #Copyright Alliance and Others Release ‘Concerns with April 2010 #ACTA Text’” https://bit.ly/d3BAvbless than a minute ago via web

As you can see looking at the three samples, each one tries to keep the formatting of the original tweet but fails. The reason is it simply uses the background and color options from the last tweet on a page. If you upload multiple embeds to one page, the system breaks but it works fine for just one. In those cases, the embeds look the same as they look on Twitter’s site.

This is, or at least could be, the most powerful element of this new feature and reason enough for most people to consider using it. However, there are many other good reasons to embrace this new method for quoting tweets.

Advantages for Bloggers

Without embedding, the only three options for citing a tweet in your profile is to:

  1. Link to the Tweet: This requires a user click and is often missed when reading a long article.
  2. Take a Screenshot: Grabbing an image of the tweet requires more time and can be a hindrance to visually impaired visitors.
  3. Copy the Tweet: Copying the tweet destroys the formatting and wreak havoc with attribution.

None of these options are ideal and all require at least some sacrifice, either to the reader, the Twitter user or the person doing the quoting.

Embeds are a truly elegant solution to this problem. It’s a simple copy/paste HTML code fix, the formatting/attribution is preserved (complete with clickable links) and it looks good (when only pasting one tweet).

In short, if you’re a blogger or a Web site that is looking to cite some tweets, this may be the best solution you have, at least if you only have one tweet you want to cite.

Advantages for Twitter Users

If you’re a Twitter user, this is good news as well. This system preserves the formatting and attribution of your tweets, offers clickable links to your tweet and your Twitter account and includes your icon/branding. In short, readers will know the tweet belongs to you instantly and can follow up on it easily.

The biggest advantage, however, is that it may make sharing tweets more common, increasing exposure. Since the copyright risks are minimal with a single tweet and the tool is not geared to easily copy all of the tweets from one’s account, it is simply an excellent opportunity for promotion.

However, there are also concerns that I have with this tool and, though I don’t consider these to be deal-brakers, they are all things I would like to see fixed before the service is considered to be an official “feature”.

Concerns and Problems

To be completely fair, the author of the Twitter Media blog, Robin Sloan, has made it clear that this is an experiment and not a feature. As such, problems are bound to creep up. But in addition to the formatting issue I mentioned before, there are a few other issues I would like to raise.

    1. In-The-Clear Text: The embeds keep the text in the clear. While SEO concerns are minimal due to the short number of characters, this does mean that the person doing the embedding could alter the words to make the tweet say just about anything. Though you can click the links and verify the the tweet, few will likely bother with that and it is also possible to change the links to make it appear that the tweet was simply deleted.

I’m really just a robot.less than a minute ago via web

  1. Mangled Backgrounds: If you use a custom Twitter background, as I do, the script seems to mangle your embeds. It would be nice if the script could pull from the center of the background and not the upper-lefthand corner, but in lieu of that it might be wise just to have all embeds use the same background or a solid color related to the profile.
  2. Lengthy Code: Shorter code is already on the future feature list but the length of the code is rather large, especially when compared to YouTube or other embeds. It has a lot of in-line CSS that causes the interference with multiple embeds in the same page and can be a real pain to edit.

While these problems are pretty nasty, they can probably be fixed in future iterations, especially if Twitter decides this is a good idea and invests time and energy in making a true embedding service.

Bottom Line

All in all, this is a neat service and, in my opinion, a good idea. Quoting tweets is a common practice and, due to the nature of tweets, almost always allowed by copyright law. These embeds just make it easier to quote properly and ensures that the original author gets credit.

With a few fixes, I could easily see this experiment being integrated deep into Twitter’s product and would welcome that change.

In the meantime, if you’re only quoting one tweet on a page, give it a try. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to look at an alternate method for citing tweets in your posts, as you can see above.

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