Twitter niceties

I noticed some Twitter correspondents prefixing their messages with “.@username” rather than plain “@username”, and having been unable to find an explanation online anywhere, did the sensible thing and asked via Twitter…

I got several responses, which mostly tallied with each other (!), and with any luck I have worked out what the deal is. The only clear way I could think of to express it was (and Eve will be so happy)… a Venn diagram. Here you go.

So – if I have got it right:

D username: visible only to the sender and recipient;
.@username: visible to the sender, sender’s followers and the recipient;
@username: visible to the sender, recipient, and the intersection of their followers.

[Post updated, 16/3/2010]

A further note: as usefully pointed out by NishantK (see comments below), unless you have set your twitter stream to be private and non-searchable, of the three types of message above, only D(irect) messages do not appear in your profile page and search results.

In general, I still have two issues with this at the design level:

1 – When a humble full stop can make such a subtle syntactical difference, is it any wonder we find it hard to grasp how to manage our online personas effectively?

2 – I started out by being frustrated at why searching for “.@” didn’t produce any useful help with definitions; I graduated to exasperation when I learned that the “.” is actually arbitrary, and any other character would have the same effect. Is it just me, or is that really daft? It means there is, essentially, no practical way either to index or to search for information about a Twitter function which makes a difference

I spent some time trying to think of a good word for “arbitrary, un-documentable feature” – but the only one I could come up with was “bug”.


3 thoughts on “Twitter niceties

  1. (With my Privacy hat on)You have to careful what you mean by "visible". Because in this context, visible to X does NOT mean not visible to people other than X.In this context, visible to X means that it shows up in their "All Friends" stream. Others can still see it by going to the senders profile page (this assumes the person has publicly visible tweets), or by doing any kind of search that shows up the tweet

  2. Owen says:

    The reason that putting a full-stop (or other character) in front of an @username isn't documented (by Twitter) is that it is actually a work around Twitter functionality.Sometime last year Twitter changed the rules about who saw what (by default). Up until this time, any replies (to anyone) from someone you followed would appear in your timeline. This mean you sometimes saw half a conversation, as you saw the replies from the person you followed, but not the tweets from the person they were replying to.Twitter changed this to the behaviour you describe above – so that you only saw replies if you followed the person they had replied to.This created quite a stir, and a campaign (#fixreplies) to change the behaviour back again (see for a quick description)The final outcome was that a simple reply (i.e. a tweet starting @username) would not appear if you didn't follow @username, but that it would appear if the person you followed simply 'mentioned' @username in the body of their tweet – so you wouldn't see:@username good to see you on Saturdaybut you would seeGood to see @username on SaturdayThis led to the immediate realisation for those who preferred the original reply behaviour that the shortest way of avoiding the problem was to put a single character in front of the @username – and quickly the full-stop became the method most widely used.You can also see what triggered the change in behaviour in the first place from Twitter sure this all helps, but it perhaps explains why this is a bit of a mess!

  3. Robin Wilton says:

    Many thanks, Owen – That does help me understand how we've got to where we are…

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