twitter syntax – Stay N Alive

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. currently uses it for its users’ channel chatrooms. It is the home for almost any “live” activity of any open source project (log into 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 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