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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89 thoughts on “Why I Hate the Twitter Syntax

  1. 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.

    Like

  2. 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.

    Like

  3. 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.

    Like

  4. 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.

    Like

  5. 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.

    Like

  6. 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.

    Like

  7. 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.

    Like

  8. 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.

    Like

  9. 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.

    Like

  10. 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.

    Like

  11. 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.

    Like

  12. 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.

    Like

  13. 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.

    Like

  14. 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.

    Like

  15. 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.

    Like

  16. 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.

    Like

  17. 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.

    Like

  18. 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.

    Like

  19. 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.

    Like

  20. 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.

    Like

  21. 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

    Like

  22. 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

    Like

  23. 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. '-)

    Like

  24. 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. '-)

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  27. 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.

    Like

  28. 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.

    Like

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