Why I Hate the Twitter Syntax

history76156-thumb.pngI have disliked the Twitter syntax since I’ve been on it (you can find me via @JesseStay on Twitter – go ahead and follow me!). As a long-time IRC user, everything seems backwards! I have often referred to Twitter as “IRC 2.0”. I’m not sure I can fully embrace that concept though.

For those unfamiliar with IRC, it predates even instant messaging. It brought out the original concept of a “chatroom”, and exists even today on various servers throughout the world. Ustream.tv currently uses it for its users’ channel chatrooms. It is the home for almost any “live” activity of any open source project (log into irc.freenode.net to see – I’m often in #utah there, as well as recently #codeaway). Traditions have been established, and virtual friendships have been bonded. In many ways it could have been the original concept of a “social network”, the first concept of linking friends together in a single place on the internet.

I was at a Perl conference just last year, and was happy to see the #YAPC chatroom in irc.perl.org open during the banquet. We had a ton of fun with that! Now, just this year, when I go to conferences, I see speakers leaving up Twitter, and answering questions via Twitter. The two seem to be serving similar purposes, in different ways.

That’s why I was astonished when I got on Twitter for the first time, and started seeing public messages directed to individuals with “@” signs in front of them! Is there a source for that that I’m not aware of? I know of no known documentation that Twitter themselves created to establish that tradition. In IRC you simply type “username:”, and then your message, and it gets highlighted in that user’s chat window in most IRC clients. Better yet, I can start typing the username and it tab-completes. You can’t do that in Twitter. That tradition and method has been around for years, yet Twitter seems to break the mold for some reason.

IRC also supports commands – I can type “/nick newnickname”, and it switches my username, automatically! It’s a basic standard that all clients support, open, and available for all to use. Twitter I have to go entirely to their website to do anything, and it’s extremely limited in what you can do. To direct message someone on Twitter, I have to type, “dm username message”. In IRC it’s just a simple command, like all other commands, and I can always type, “/help” if I don’t know what the commands available are. I simply type, “/msg username message”, and it messages the user, and again, it tab-completes the username!

Why couldn’t Twitter just use the IRC standard in their platform, and then expand upon it to improve the IRC standard and bring it to a mobile world? By all means many of their scalability issues may have been taken care of had they done so. Not just that, but they would now be able to support groups, and less development would be needed to manage their platform. Twitter says they have an open API – I question that openness. It’s not based on much of an open standard, and IMO, it’s causing them problems now because of it.

Looking to start a project? Always look at the open solutions that are out there first, then build upon them – you’ll have much fewer headaches if you do.

(Photo courtesy GapingVoid.com)

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jessestay

Jesse Stay has been a pioneer in the space of social media marketing since before it was called "social media marketing". Originally a software developer, Jesse built a tool called SocialToo.com which helped brands like Pepsi, Brittany Spears, and MC Hammer grow their social media presence, and before he knew it brands were coming to him for help to grow their presence in very unique ways. His tool was featured on almost every tech blog and even mainstream news sites like New York Times, Techcrunch, and Mashable. Jesse also spent a brief period working FOR Facebook, Inc., helping them to build out their documentation to help companies integrate Facebook Connect into their websites and mobile apps. Jesse took his skills and helped the LDS Church kick off most of its social media programs. While there he helped launch the award-winning "I'm a Mormon" marketing campaign with global reach worldwide in the millions of views and followers. Jesse established new global programs at the Church to further grow its reach amongst both members and non-members of the Church, working with every department of the Church, also including entities like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Brigham Young University. He also helped the Church navigate its voice and presence during the Mitt Romney Presidential campaign due to the significant attention the Church was getting at the time. He established the social media advertising techniques and strategies employed at Deseret Digital Media growing over 20 million fans across their news properties in just 6 months, and was featured on AdWeek for his success. As founder and Principal of Stay N Alive, Jesse has developed very unique techniques in social media advertising to help organizations grow presences, within months on minimal budgets, into hundreds of thousands of highly relevant and engaging fans and followers. He designed and teaches social media advertising at LDS Business College. He has helped grow sales, and has a belief that yes, you CAN measure social! Jesse has been featured as one of 10 entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter (next to Biz Stone and Ev Williams, founders of Twitter) by Entrepreneur magazine. Jesse has written 9 books on the topic of social media marketing and development, including Google+ Marketing For Dummies and Facebook All In One For Dummies, and eats, lives, and drinks social media with a personal combined presence of over 600,000 followers on his personal social profiles.

0 thoughts on “Why I Hate the Twitter Syntax”

  1. First answer – @

    I remember reading about this elsewhere and I believe the answer that somebody else came up with was that the @reply
    symbol came into common usage on the Gawker networks with the commenting system. (I could be wrong)
    The non-standard practice may have originated elsewhere but I saw several mentions from longtime gawker commenters
    that after a short incubation period of using the @reply visual function (as this is a visual function
    created only by the human brain and not translated by software by any means), the community started to develop
    grease monkey scripts to ease the use and readability of the commenting system and thus including the @reply format
    as code that could be parsed by the script. I could be making wild speculations here, but it may give you
    some insight and a lead into the information that you were looking for.

    Second answer – IRC vs txt.

    I am making another speculation here based less on fact and more on just what I know of certain services. I think
    that your second query revolves around terms such as SMS and '140 character limit' and Service Providers and
    not needing to install any software on the client side mobile device. I believe (speculation again) that the
    developers of this particular social app may have asked themselves questions about how to integrate mobile devices
    into the loop of communication without installing any client side software. What would be the most universal?
    I think that asking these questions may lead us into the information that helps clarify your confusion as to why
    — as to why twitter had come to evolve as it had — Instead of IRC evolving in its place.

    (sorry for the disjointed post, I can never see what I am typing once my characters reach your “recent
    visitors window on your sight, and the text never autowraps while I am commenting)

  2. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  3. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  4. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  5. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  6. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  7. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  8. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  9. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  10. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  11. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  12. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  13. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  14. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  15. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  16. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  17. As a fan of both Twitter and IRC, I think the @username syntax works around a scalability problem that IRC doesn't have unless the channel is very, very crowded. It's easy to ping someone in IRC by their name, without other argument. However, the pool of people who may ping you, even by accident, is limited to the people who are in channel with you.

    In Twitter, where your potential pool of pingers is the whole site, you could very easily get spammed up and miss replies you really should have seen, if someone's plain username were enough to ping them, especially for a username that's a common word. I do think it wise to make attempting to get someone's attention a deliberate action.

  18. Twitter being 'IRC 2.0' came about after Twitter was already in heavy use. As far as I've ever been able to tell, it's not actually intended to be anything like IRC.

    From that standpoint, switching usernames with trivial commands makes no sense, and '/msg username message' is, if anything, considerably worse than simply 'd username message'.

    Twitter's command structure is simple and focussed. That's all it needs to do. Expecting it to be a clone of IRC simply because some people are using like like they used to use IRC is just foolish. I would be surprised if the majority of Twitter's userbase has ever used IRC, and if Twitter had, for some reason, chosen to use IRC-like commands it would be just as much a learning experience for them as the current set.

    This is somewhat like complaining that a random text editor doesn't support EMACS commands, because you're used to using EMACS. The world does not pick conventions simply to suit your personal needs.

  19. azurelunatic those are great points – it would be nice to be able to at least tab-complete those that you follow though. That would be more of Twhirl's responsibility though, but there is no standard of any sort governing that – would love to see Twitter implement an open standard based on their platform.

  20. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  21. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  22. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  23. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  24. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  25. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  26. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  27. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  28. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  29. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  30. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  31. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  32. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  33. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  34. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  35. That's not really what you've said, though. You've said that Twitter should be based around existing conventions (not 'standards' – tab-complete usernames is client-specific, for example), and chosen an example which personally suits you.

    But why shouldn't a different type of service choose their own conventions? That's what happened with the '@user' convention, which coded support was added for only after people started using it themselves.

    Twitter is not IRC, 2.0 or otherwise, and its command syntax fits better than using an odd subset of IRC's would.

  36. That's not really what you've said, though. You've said that Twitter should be based around existing conventions (not 'standards' – tab-complete usernames is client-specific, for example), and chosen an example which personally suits you.

    But why shouldn't a different type of service choose their own conventions? That's what happened with the '@user' convention, which coded support was added for only after people started using it themselves.

    Twitter is not IRC, 2.0 or otherwise, and its command syntax fits better than using an odd subset of IRC's would.

  37. Jesse, I know what you mean. Twitter does seem more limited in user features than IRC. But it's differences have made it very popular.

    I was an avid IRCer on undernet back in '94 – '95 and met a lot of great people in Utah that are still RL friends. Now in 2008 I'm finally getting back into social networking on the internet.

    I'm glad Twitter is not just another IRC platform. I like that it's archived so doesn't have to be realtime, that it has basic threading, and you choose who you listen to. I can't really see myself spending a lot of time on IRC again, but for some weird reason I don't mind using twitter.

  38. Jesse, I know what you mean. Twitter does seem more limited in user features than IRC. But it's differences have made it very popular.

    I was an avid IRCer on undernet back in '94 – '95 and met a lot of great people in Utah that are still RL friends. Now in 2008 I'm finally getting back into social networking on the internet.

    I'm glad Twitter is not just another IRC platform. I like that it's archived so doesn't have to be realtime, that it has basic threading, and you choose who you listen to. I can't really see myself spending a lot of time on IRC again, but for some weird reason I don't mind using twitter.

  39. John, Twitter is also not an open platform. I don't have a problem with them choosing their own conventions – they need to build a standard off those conventions so we are not just relying on one company to deliver this communications platform. Twitter is not making money yet, so there is no saying they will be around forever – sticking to an open standard will comfort me that their platform will not die, and will continue, even if they do not survive.

    I still don't like the @ style messaging though.

  40. John, Twitter is also not an open platform. I don't have a problem with them choosing their own conventions – they need to build a standard off those conventions so we are not just relying on one company to deliver this communications platform. Twitter is not making money yet, so there is no saying they will be around forever – sticking to an open standard will comfort me that their platform will not die, and will continue, even if they do not survive.

    I still don't like the @ style messaging though.

  41. Speaking of Twitter, I made a Twitter enabled LED sign that faces east onto 400 South at the State Street intersection.

    You can only see it at night, but you can have a msg posted there by 'd xmlabs '.

    Have fun with it (and be good πŸ˜‰

    -mp

  42. Speaking of Twitter, I made a Twitter enabled LED sign that faces east onto 400 South at the State Street intersection.

    You can only see it at night, but you can have a msg posted there by 'd xmlabs '.

    Have fun with it (and be good πŸ˜‰

    -mp

  43. Jesse: People started using @username organically and then Twitter recognized it and just “paved the cowpaths.” @username works where username doesn't because of global vs. local scope as @azurelunatic brings up, and also because it's an otherwise unusual pattern that is easy and reliable to parse for username references. I personally love the way they are used. Besides, some people hated music CD when they were released too. '-)

  44. Jesse: People started using @username organically and then Twitter recognized it and just “paved the cowpaths.” @username works where username doesn't because of global vs. local scope as @azurelunatic brings up, and also because it's an otherwise unusual pattern that is easy and reliable to parse for username references. I personally love the way they are used. Besides, some people hated music CD when they were released too. '-)

  45. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  46. John, my main point was that Twitter, while an open API, is not based on open standards. I would like to see them implement an open standard, or use and improve on an existing standard.

  47. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

  48. Oh, and the nature of your OP has left you wide open and vulnerable to counter-attack with lots of snark and
    turning certain statements made back upon themselves thus either slighty damaging your credibility or ego, or both
    I have, of course, chosen *not* to take advantage of this. However, if there is somebody following your blog that does not like you, they may jump on the opportunity you left open with this post. See @vaspersthegrate for more info about blogosphere warfare. πŸ˜‰

    If you would like to know more about the vulnerabilities that I noticed, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to let you know in private so as not to call them out in public.

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