Thursday, 16 September 2010

Grammar of Twitter

• @ - @ functions as an indicator (in the same way your 'index finger' does). As such it is used 'conversationally' to initiate contact, refer to a twitter user, act as calling-card or introduction, and as a phatic instrument. [N/B @ spam is therefore a common problem on twitter].

• Retweet [auto] - the 'auto-retweet' function causes you to echo a tweet without editorial comment. It is the principle mechanism in twitters 'cascade-casting' [where twitter become a broadcast media - try auto-retweeting and you'll see what I mean].

• RT - the RT mark is used when manually retweeting and although originally used to simply 'cascade-cast' tweets is now, following the introduction of auto-retweet, used to comment on a tweet. An editorial retweet if you like.

• follow & followers - the follow option causes the tweets of the followed twitter user to appear in your 'tweet stream' [the flow or feed of tweets that constitutes your twitter home page] this is the whole point of twitter and it's most important mechanism. The more people who follow your twitter feed the greater the count of your follows (those who have chosen to follow you) and thus the wider your tweets are 'cascade-cast'. So far follower count has been a function of already existing fame and celebrity and noons has become famous from twitter use in the way the myspace popularity was, in at least one case, used to achieve celebrity status. [N/B follow spam is therefore a very common problem in twitter].

• lock - a privacy mechanism in twitter that restricts who can see your tweets and prevents them being retweeted.

• 'in reply to' - this is a 'threading' tool that allows one to follow the line of a twitter conversation back though the tangle of tweets that make up any given stream. As such it is a marker of conversation and conversational action.

• 140 character limit - twitter was originally conceived as a 'text-to' service that users would SMS. This required twitter to restrict the length of any tweet to 140 characters to allow the easy translation of SMS to web via their servers and thus save them server space (& costs). This limitation then became the most important mark of twitter as a media form. So a technical limitation became the convention of the form and is retained on that form basis rather than for technical reasons; as tweets could now be of any length or type what so ever.

• integrating services and clients - a wide variety of other services integrate with twitter and expand it. Twitpic, tweetlonger, wefollow, all extend the functionality of twitter. Various 'clients' (local software that sits on your computer and or phone) allow for the integration of twitter with a your local computer and a variety of services but most importantly allow for a re-ordering and presentation of the informational structure of twitter in new and different ways (see tweetdeck, osfoora, etc).

• hypertext - hypertext is the essential mark and element of the WWW. The web is a massively- multiple-distributed set of hypertext documents (that exists on the Internet, which is an ICT infrastructure) and twitter is a part of this. This means that any tweet can 'link-to' any other part of the web via hypertext and the sharing of links is one of the most common activities on twitter.

• url shorteners - The 140 character limit of twitter causes some hypertext problems as some www.addresses.of.sites. are far longer than 140 characters. As it is conventional to give web addresses as URL domain-names ( and not as IP addresses (012.345.678.910) it has become necessary to use a URL shortener such as to provide a reduced format URL in twitter b

• Phatic communication - phatic discourse is any kind of communication that enables, opens and/or maintains social interaction. Saying 'hello', talking about the weather, making 'small-talk', discussing shared experiences, etc, are all phatic actions. Twitter is a phatic space par-excellence because the restrictions of the form prevent overly-long statements, inhibit complex interaction (twitter arguments are very hard to conduct and even more difficult to follow), and because of its hypertextual nature encourages distraction and movement away from the main twitter space (although the coming redesign and some twitter 'clients' may address this).


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