What's the @ in Twitter?


Pretty much everyone at Kynetx has started using Twitter. That led to a new crop of my other friends starting to tweet as well. Today @fulling asked my "what's the @"? He didn't know he was opening up a can of worms.

Steve Gillmor refuses to use the @. He rightly points out that the Web client moves those out of the tweetflow and that while thick-clients do a better job of that (I use Twitterific, for example), that's not a solution for people who want to use the iPhone or other mobile platforms.

Now I'm getting pushback for avoiding @messages, which are difficult to render on the iPhone and not what I want to do for the most part elsewhere. What I do want to do is respond to direct requests for dialogue while leaving open the opportunity for the larger community of people who follow me to absorb the flow. In other words, while I may be answering someone directly, I'm always cognizant of the power of the Twitter space to amplify and accelerate ideas and issues in this hybrid public/personal editorial space.

This Twitterstage is unique in its various overlapping attributes, what I would call a swarmscape where ideas are accelerated by the realtime interaction around ideas, questions, assertions, humor, avoidance, and other gestures much richer than those of the aggregated services they draw on: IM, email, blogging, etc. So my shorthand methodology takes the form of first replying with the Twitter name without the @ sign, then shortening it as the dialogue extends to first name or just continued response, always assuming that the participants will either find it sufficiently interesting to follow me (and hopefully I them) or if they wish, use the @message to trigger my track keyword harvesting.

From NewsGang
Referenced Thu Apr 03 2008 15:44:15 GMT-0600 (MDT)

I wouldn't have expected anything else from @stevegillmor. After all, he elevated not linking to people to an art-form. That said, he's got a point.

When @fulling and I talked, I explained it was shorthand for him, his identity on Twitter, if you will and that I used @fulling to refer to him so that others had context about what I might be saying. If you're not following @fulling and I say:

@fulling don't do that or your Macbook will fry!

You can easily go see what @fulling was going to do that I warned him about. With out the @, it's harder. In fact, you're not even sure if it's an Twitter username or not.

When I got back to the office after talking with @fulling, I saw this tweet from @timbray about an article he'd written on Twitter. Among other interesting things, Tim said:

@ · When you create an instantly-recognizable, simple, Internet-wide addressing mode and it shows signs of sticking, well, that's a big deal. "@timbray" has become a significant part of my identity.
From ongoing · On Twitter
Referenced Thu Apr 03 2008 15:54:48 GMT-0600 (MDT)

Well said. Twitter has created a brand new, Internet-wide addressing system that has become an identity system in it's own right.

Yesterday, @bryce said

They really do introduce you by your usrname at twitted hq. Hi I'm @bryce. Nice to meet you.

Heh.