Each social network has its own greatest-hits list. YouTube had "The Evolution of Dance." Facebook seems to generate million-like stories about kids and puppies every other week. Many of Tumblr's most-noted stories feature cats and/or GIFs.
These most popular stories do not describe everyone's individual experience of these platforms, but you have to admit, they do say something about what's celebrated collectively. They represent the mass-market experience of the social network.
So, on the eve of Twitter's initial public offering, we took a look at what Twitter-tracker Favstar says are the 10 most-retweeted tweets of all time (though none is more than a couple years old).
This seems like the best metric for measuring Twitter success, given that the network's defining feature is the rapid spread of information. And yes, I understand this list is not be totally comprehensive or perfect: for example, it leaves off Barack Obama's reelection tweet, which garnered more than 789 thousand retweets, and I'm not sure why. And there are tweets from Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, and a Green Bay football player noted here that should be on the list, but don't change the analysis. So, as a caveat, let's say FavStar is not canonical, but it is instructive.
Notably missing from the list: political figures, revolutions, breaking-news events. While most individual Twitter accounts feature a mix of entertainment, news, and interpersonal interaction, when you average out the sea of tweets, we find gray platitudes from famous people.
OK, here we go, from 12 to 1, ranging from roughly 45 thousand retweets up to 88 thousand.
12. A imitation account of the singer Frank Ocean, 45k retweets: "3 guys in Colorado died protecting their girlfriends. i don't want to hear any girls saying that 'All guys are the same.' "
11. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, 46k retweets: "Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive"
9. Soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo, 51k retweets: "Thanks for everything boss." (With a photo of Alex Ferguson, his coach at Manchester United.)
8. Rapper Drake, 53k retweets: "You never worry about the last laugh if you've been laughing the whole time."
7. Singer Ariana Grande, 53k retweets: "Retweet for a follow & I'll follow as many as I can today. If I don't get to you now I'm sure I will eventually, I'm always doing these. :)"
6. Online storage company Dropbox, 56k retweets: "A guide on how to get more free space with Dropbox!http://t.co/nIjwo0nM Retweet for a chance to get +100GB!"
5. A parody account of the photo sharing service Instagram, 56k retweets: "Right now you have 3 fingers behind your phone, your pinky tucked under for support, and you're scrolling with your thumb."
4. One Direction bandmember Louis Tomlinson, 60k retweets: "Uh oh . @tomthewanted The Wanted's Tom Parker: My failed X Factor audition shattered me | http://metro.co.uk/2011/07/04/the-wanteds-tom-parker-my-failed-x-factor-audition-shattered-me-64958/ … via @metrouk"
3. Justin Bieber, 62k retweets: "every girl out there should respect themselves. #real"
2. Actor Ben Savage, 68k retweets: "I'm going to be a father! Well, on TV at least. The 'Boy Meets World' sequel is officially happening!"