one must first know the rules to break them

This is a rather hyperbolic statement but Twitter is probably one of the most fascinating emergent communication and collaboration platforms i’ve come across since writing. communication and collaboration on twitter is very much an emergent, dynamic, and uniquely colored by the individual’s experience.

Rather like writing in Shakespeare’s time where spelling and grammar was a fluid, people are experimenting and learning as they participate more. For this reason I thought I’d provide some examples of how I’m using and experimenting with various conventions that i use to try and communicate more clearly on Twitter in a way that can help both people and machines comprehend while still fitting them in the wonderfully constrained 140 characters.

Slashtags are a simple way to add information to a tweet that helps both people and machines understand context around a tweet. At the end of the content of the tweet you add a / followed by some two and three letter codes that provide the meaning (common slashtag codes are by, via, cc, and re). For example:

Curiosity is the purest form of insubordination /by “Vladimir Nabokov” via @Mandahl @ElspethMurray @valdiskrebs #Writing #poetry

Link to tweet

The summary of meaning of the slashtag here is:

  • /by – text was originally written by Vladimir Nabokov
  • via – I found the tweet by a chain of communication between @Mandahl @ElspethMurray @valdiskrebs
  • # – the keywords associated with this tweet are Writing and Poetry

The addition of quotation marks around Vladimir Nabokov’s name is to help any machine readers understand that both words are included in the /by. If this was written as /by Vladimir Nabokov most machines or search engines would interpret this as /by vladimir which is obviously missing some critical context. In the case of twitter names that contain no spaces obviously there is no need for quotation marks as they have no spaces between them. Spaces after the slash are generally separating elements that stand alone, either twitter names, URL’s, or hashtags (the # is known as a hashtag and acts like a keyword or metadata, see twitter fan wiki for more info)

Just one slashtag
It is worth noting that everything following the / should be metadata and therefore it is not necessary to add any more slashes. It’s also worth noting that there is no need to repeat a slashtag either, if you have several people you are cc’ing or found via you can just add as many names after the tag and assume it can be assumed they are part of the preceding slashtag. Here’s an example of an unnecessary slash and via:

@sushobhan: why working & middle class Republicans are like “Turkeys voting for Thanksgiving” /via @dollar5 /via @karllong

This should read (also note I removed the superfluous colon after the twitter username):

@sushobhan why working & middle class Republicans are like “Turkeys voting for Thanksgiving” /via @dollar5 @karllong

by vs via
I often notice people using via when they should really be using by. For me it’s a pretty critical difference if someone wrote an article vs just pointing at it. Here’s an example:

@karllong: the future of the Internet will be driven by reputation /by @bhc3 via @contrafactos @innovate

Experimental use, RSVP
I think one of the great things about slashtags is you can really experiment with them and if you do it in a way that a human reader can understand it becomes a way for people to learn and collaborate, creating standards and norms by just usage. Here’s an example where I was invited to a drink up that I was unable to go to, but wanted to promote it to my followers, without giving the impression that I was going to be there. Here’s the experiment:

This is the tweet from Techstars about the drinkup:

@techstars Winter Drinkup this Thursday in San Francisco. RSVP /cc @jeffrey @chrismessina @karllong @davemorin @tedr

And my response, using an experimental slashtag of rsvp:

damn, I’ll be out of town RT @techstars Winter Drinkup this Thursday in San Francisco RSVP (expand) /rsvp no cc @chrismessina

This is not going to be interpreted by any machines at this point, but it is human readable so I’m adding some value. Also because it’s not a standard slashtag I made sure to use it as the first / so it would be as obvious as possible what I was intending.

Anyway, those are some examples of how i’m playing with slashtags, I’d love to hear about any emerging communication standards you see emerging on twitter, cheer.

For further reading on slashtags and other Microsyntax, as Stowe Boyd calls it check out these other links:
Adapting twitter to the new RT from webmaster source

Also for further examples of slashtag usage i’ve created some searches on twitter to gather my various usage here:
Karl Long’s use of /via, /cc, /re and /by

Image source: Matt Hamm

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