Basic Twitter Terms

The following are a few Twitter terms that come up frequently and are defined here in hopes of demystifying the vocabulary. This and other Twitter information exists at the Twitter page of the Book Promotion on the Web wiki. If you come up with other terms you think should be on this list, please email me or add them to the wiki so someone can enter in the definition.

@replies (also known as “mentions”)

Use an at sign (@) in front of a Twitter username to reply to someone, to refer to them, or direct a new message to somebody. So, for example, the tweet

@gregpincus look for mail from @jdp23

tells gregpincus to look for mail from jdp23.

You can see all the tweets directed to you by clicking on the @yourusername link when you are signed in to Twitter and on the “Home” page. The above tweet would appear as a mention for both gregpincus and jdp23. Also, please see “Clients” below.

Retweeting (RT)

Retweeting is the act of sharing someone else’s tweet with your followers – spreading the word wider. To identify a retweet, the Twitter convention is to put RT at the start of the retweet and to include the Twitter username of the person you are retweeting like attributing a quote. In fact, it is a violation of Twitters terms of service to present others’ material as your own, so attribution is key. As an example:

RT @SCBWI Our summer conference is August 7-10.

would be retweeting an @SCBWI tweet announcing conference dates.

Hashtags (#)

Use the sharp or number sign (#) as part of a “hashtag” to organize and categorize your information. For example

new chapbook “skittling and fiddling” is available online today! #poetry

would be grouped in searches with any other tweets labeled #poetry, as well.

Whether or not you’ve got an account, Twitter hashtags are an easy way to follow conversations about different topics. You can follow them via Twitter Search, RSS, Friendfeed, or clients (see below) like twhirl and Tweetdeck. Wild Apricot’s article “An Introduction to Twitter Hashtags” has more information about this very useful Twitter convention.


Instead of using or their phones, many people use “clients” – standalone applications like Tweetdeck, twhirl, Seesmic Desktop, tweetie, or many others – to tweet and read others’ tweets. Clients offer different user interfaces designed to make things like tweeting and retweeting easier, and some offer different ways to group the tweets you read. Most also separate out your “mentions” so you can see easily who is talking with, to, or about you. Once you are up and running in Twitter, it is worth checking out a client or two to see if it will make the experience more fun for you.

You can find links to many of clients (and other programs) at the Twitter downloads page.


Every Friday (and sometimes other days), it has become a Twitter “tradition” to recommend users that others should follow by including their username and #followfriday or #FF in a tweet. Sometimes you’ll see a tweet full of usernames with no specific reason for the followfriday recommendation whereas other times you’ll read a “why” as well as names. Looking at the recommendations of people you enjoy on Twitter is a good way to find new people to follow. Likewise, recommending tweeters you enjoy helps them get more followers.

The Fail Whale

GW125H93Twitter sometimes reaches overcapacity and you cannot tweet or read tweets. When that occurs, users of Twitter are taken to a screen that includes the graphic (by Yiying Lu) of a whale, now referred to as the Fail Whale, seen to the right.

URL Shorteners

Because of the 140 character limit of each tweet, it can be difficult to include full URLs in a message. Even this page has a URL that contains 45 characters… or nearly 1/3 a full tweet! Luckily, there are many services that can take a long URL and give you a shorter one, usually under 20 characters, to use instead.

Two of the best known sites are and tinyurl. To use either, you go to their site, paste your long URL in a box, click the “shorten” button, and get a new, shorter URL that you can then paste in your tweet or in e-mail or wherever you want. As an example of how it looks and works: is a shortened link to the original wiki page containing this information.

This post on offers up over 130 URL shortening sites, as well as a lot of information on how and why to use them.