UPDATE: Six months after the below was written, the kind folks at Twitter, Inc. changed their policies on replies, per here, now calling them mentions. As such, the following is moot. If you’d like to read about it, feel free.
Regardless how you use Twitter, if you have something to say in 140 characters or less, your message (or tweet) is read by anyone following you at that moment in time or anyone watching the public timeline of 3+ million users.
- Any message beginning with text enters the public timeline and is indexed by search engines.
- Any message beginning with an @ sign is a reply, also enters the timeline and is indexed.
- Any message beginning with a D is a direct message to one person. DMs are private, do not enter the timeline, and are not indexed.
For instance, here is my last tweet:
Do you see how I referenced @jbernoff at the end of the tweet? I was not replying to him, but I placed an @ sign there so anyone following me or viewing the public timeline (or searching the public timeline for keywords, e.g. “corporate blog” or “peer” or “jbernoff”) would see it, could click to Josh’s Twitter profile, and opt to follow him.
Had I begun the tweet with @jbernoff, he would see my message appear in his @replies stream. Every Twitter desktop and mobile client, along with the twitter.com web interface, provides a default @replies column so people can see messages directed at them.
But here’s the kicker: Despite my using @jbernoff in that above tweet, it won’t appear in Josh’s @replies column for the single reason I did not begin the tweet with his username. Does that make sense?
Examples to prove my point
Here is a screen shot from my @replies stream on twitter.com:
And here are the same tweets from Twhirl, a Windows desktop client:
What would happen if someone tweeted me but did not put @ariherzog in the front of the message?
Check out what happens when I type in my username at Twitter Search:
Disregarding the tweet I broadcasted, you can see the Twhirl and generic Twitter.com replies from Leah Jones and RouteNote, but you also see something from Andrea Zak, not unlike what I tweeted with Josh Bernoff.
Here’s the same screen shot with a custom search query (ariherzog OR ariwriter) in TweetDeck, my primary means of watching tweets:
You can continue using Twitter.com or Twhirl or any other application you want for viewing replies that people send you, but be aware that you’re only seeing half the truth. Also keep in mind that if someone sends out a group tweet, e.g. several @ usernames in a row, only the first username sees it in his @replies stream.
Echoing my post title above, Twitter @replies are stupid; and their developers should find some way of tweaking the @replies feature!
It is for this reason I strongly suggest everyone either create customized search query strings within Twitter Search, TweetScan, or TweetBeep; or do what I do and set up a custom search query in TweetDeck.
Any questions? Poke me a comment below or tweet me!