Sunday, March 15

Can you explain that twitter crap? Sure.

exasperated about twitterEvery so often on my Facebook account, I get a friend of mine asking about the funny shorthand for my status messages.  For example, last night I was twittering on about an event I was at (or going to):
If you are still in NYC, a group of us are heading to #nxne from @nwc. Send a DM to join us...
And my friend replied:
Dude, what the heck does "#nxne from @nwc" mean anyway? You always post stuff like this that just make no friggin' sense. Can't you just use plain English?
Sure - I can, but just like the shorthand language kids developed for beepers back in the late 80's and early 90's, SMS texting has taken the format and expanded on it.

And since twitter is somewhat like blogging (in a very short 140 characters per message), combine the sensibilities of SMS texting with comment blogging grammar and you get the 'at' and the 'hashtag' formats.

At Format (@name)

Born out of the need to have a dialog with commenters on a blog post, the 'at' convention (@name) has been co-opted by twitter to allow for an easy response back to an individual to talk with someone in an open communication platform.  And since 140 characters requires some for of simplification, the @ symbol has been used to symbolize the designation for a name.  In the twitter case, it means to convert @name to .

Usually, the name is the login or twitter ID for a user on twitter, so if you follow the link to the twitter site, you will see their thread of discussion on the page.  When used in the context of a discussion (in reply to), it usually means the person is discussing a topic with someone.  In the case above (@nwc), New Work City (a coworking location in Manhattan) maintains a twitter account where announcements are made.  As more brands migrate onto twitter, the brand takes the twitter name and uses it much like they would with a URL or a blog name.

Hashtag Format

Since the twitter namespace can only support so many names, and since events or ideas are usually not as permanent as brands or people, another convention got created using a different character, the hash, number or pound symbol (#) depending on your preference.  As quotes from the site:

Hashtags was designed to accommodate the real-time news community. We provide analytic reports and indexing features to allow users to track what's happening now.

Hashtags are a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to your tweets. They're like tags on Flickr, only added inline to your post. You create a hashtag simply by prefixing a word with a hash symbol: #hashtag.

So, in the case of the #nxne code on the first status message, an event was created in NYC in response to the South by Southwest event by others in the city who did not get a chance to go to SXSW (or in hashtag lingo, #sxsw).  The event, called North by Northeast, was a gathering at a cbar in the East Village.  And to communicate you were going, you ended up - on your twitter messages or status messages, using the event's hashtag - #nxne.

So why all the lingo?

Simply put, it is easy to communicate with a shorthand, and you need someway to thread your discussions when you are talking in a very noisy space.  Imaging you were having three or more conversations in a party - you are able to distinguish your conversation by addressing each individual by name (@name) and use the topic noun to distinguish which topic you are talking about (#name) with whom.

So, when you are tracking a feed page (either on your homepage on twitter, on friendfeed or on Facebook), you can see the threaded discussions and distinguish what people are talking about And, if you are really adventurous, consider using the Search feature at ( and put in your favorite @ name or hashtag.
Twitter purchased a company (Summize) that built our a live tracking system that allows you to see the feed discussions on any search query you want.  So, if you want to watch the discussions going on about SXSW (for example, #sxsw), you were enter the hashtag into the query box and watch the discussion.

More information?  Just check out my twitter feed at

No comments: