Twitter Short Codes – Microsyntax

futurelab default header

Hashtags emerged some time ago as a way for people to indicate keywords in their tweets, metadata if you like. Usage was simple, just put a # before any word and it became a #hashtag. Search engines could filter through the noise for # and find metadata about the tweets. This works well for custom words that you want to create on the fly, but what strikes me is there is an opportunity for sets of letters or codes that have meaning in of themselves without the need for that additional character of the hash tag.

Chris Messina has proposed something called Microsyntax that uses what he is dubbing slashtags that use a slash to define the metadata ie.

  • /cc -carbon copy
  • /by -authored by
  • /via -found via

I think this is a great idea, but for such well defined letter codes is the / necessary? I also wonder if we define such tags and start building tools around them (Tweetie 2 supports slashtags) we actually limiting ourselves or blinkering ourselves from emerging communication norms that are being defined by the broader user base of twitter.

Wouldn’t it be possible with such a limited set of codes to just use the letter codes themselves as a way to find this additional metadata or conversation analysis? This would have the advantage of using the norms that are already emerging. I see people using the code “via” quite a lot, so a search of twitter for ” via @…” (notice the space before via and between the @) would garner excellent results without having to persuade everyone to use a new code.

I think the slashcode works well if you are trying to create new norms, but if people are already using cc, via, and re it would be as well to start building tools that take advantage of those norms because as people start getting value out of using those norms, more people will start using them, and therefor the tools become more useful. My suggestion to anyone looking to build tools that tease out meaning from the conversation that is happening on twitter should look carefully at the communication and social norms that are emerging and leverage that. This should involve picking up things like the slashtags, but also searching for the other patterns that are emerging.

Quick Plug:
We are starting to work on some of these conversation analysis problems at to help provide a richer view of the the community ecosystems that we are discovering for clients. If you’re doing any community outreach work we’d love to talk to you

UPDATE: @stoweboyd has also written about the Microsyntax proposal here suggesting some other ideas and norms that can be used. I think the upshot is that there are many ways that users are learning to communicate on twitter and we need to listen carefully to the norms that are emerging as I don’t think a grand unified theory is practical.

UPDATE2: @chrismessina has written a clarifying post on his blog which explains something that I had not previously understood and that is his idea of chaining the slashtags after the first / as he said just trying separate the “meta from the meat” (which is itself a wonderful phrase).

Image source:

Original Post: