Twitter Basics: Types of Message

Welcome back. Part 2 of my Twitter introduction/reference.  Hey, this is as much for my benefit as yours!

Today, different types of message.

Status updates are all well and good, but sometimes you want to reply to something someone said, or pass it on to others.  There are conventions that allow you to do this.  Some result in special processing of your message by Twitter’s servers, others are just style or accepted convention.

@ Replies

Pronounced “at replies”, these allow you to send replies to a message posted by another user.  The format of an @ reply is:

@username Message


@magicroundabout Hey, thanks for the tips!

These are specially processed by Twitter and you can see which “Tweet” (message) the reply was sent in reply to.  Plus, if someone you’re not following @ replies you, you will see the message in your timeline – on your homepage.  There is also a special section on the Twitter homepage that allows you to see all replies directed at you.

Recently, Twitter started processing messages as @ replies even if the @username wasn’t at the start of the message.

Direct messaging

@ replies are, in essence, public. There are rules (that I won’t go into here) about who’s @replies you see in your timeline.  But if someone else looks at your profile, they will see the @replies that you have posted.

Direct messaging allows you send a message to someone privately and is done by writing a message in the format:

d username Message


d magicroundabout Ah, so no one else can see this eh?!

Direct messages are filtered into a separate “Direct Messages” inbox on the Twitter homepage, and there’s a neat little screen for sending “directs” to others on the Twitter site too.


Re-tweeting is a convention used when someone has said something that you want to repeat, with credit to the original sender.  A re-tweet is denoted by the letters RT and the username of the originator.  A typical message would be:

RT @myfriend Hey, send everyone this cool link:

Re-tweets are not, to my knowledge, processed any differently to normal messages – other than the fact that they are also an @reply to the originator.

I confess, re-tweeting, in general, annoys me.  If I want to hear what @yourfriend has to say, then I’m probably following them.  Plus, if I am already following them and you RT them, then I get the same message twice.

Occasional re-tweeting is OK, but it’s got a bit out of hand.

[Update November ’09]

Twitter has now rolled out an official Re-tweet feature.  This seems to have reduced some of the noise by doing retweets more intelligently.  The details of how this works are over on the Twitter Blog.


Hashtags are a convention that’s not processed by Twitter, but IS processed by a separate website at

Hashtags allow you to include your messages along with other messages about a similar topic.  A hashtag basically says “This message is about….<topic>”.

A hashtag is a word, with no spaces, preceeded by a hash (#) character, and can appear anywhere in your message.

A good example of this was in February when we had lots of snow in the UK and it caused lots of disruption.  People used “#uksnow”  to state that their message was about the UK snow. e.g.

Snow’s about 8 inches deep here in Swindon #uksnow


Got stuck in the #uksnow this morning.

Why would you want to do this?  Well, the hashtags website mentioned above tracks hashtags and shows lists of messages that contain a particular tag, “trends” (what people are talking about a lot right now) and statistics about tags.

The Twitter search function (which I’ll cover another time) also does trending and allows you to seach for messages with a particular tag?

“Where to tags come from?”, I hear you ask.  Well, anyone! Just make one up, start using it, or pick up an existing one and use that.

Note that, apart from direct messages, you can combine as many of these things as you like.  You could, for example, write:

RT @yourfriend Hey, pass this on #coolretweets

How any old user is supposed to work out these things I’m not sure.  Probably people say:

@magicroundabout What’s all these # things flying around?

and I reply

@friend Ah, that’ll be #hashtags then: