I’m a huge fan of Twitter, but quite often, the way things work on there isn’t self-explanatory. In fact, it can often take Wikipedia Brown (Encyclopedia Brown’s cyber-savvy son, perhaps?) to sort out what’s what.
Take, for instance, the question of who can see your tweets?
Begin at the Beginning
Twitter’s default is that everyone who follows you can see what you tweet. When you tweet, it will show up in each follower’s tweetstream – the Home screen on Twitter.com – along with the tweets of everyone else they follow.
So, when I tweeted:
Everyone who followed me had that tweet appear in their stream. People who do NOT follow me didn’t see that tweet in their stream.
But it would be too easy if EVERY tweet was like this, wouldn’t it? Yes. Yes it would.
If you start your tweet with someone’s username – @gregpincus, for example – then the rule of who sees your tweet changes.
Below is a tweet I sent to my #kidlitchat co-host, Bonnie Adamson. It starts with her username, @bonnieadamson, and is, in effect, just a conversational tweet addressed to her:
That tweet would NOT seen by all my followers. Instead, it would only appear in the tweetstreams of the person I’m writing to (@bonnieadamson) and anyone who follows both me AND her.
In other words, starting with the @username limits the audience.
The Dot Effect
Quite often, you’ll see tweets that start with a period before a @username – I could have begun the above tweet with .@bonnieadamson, for example. The effect of that (or any other punctuation or letters like RT or words) is to make the tweet visible to everyone.
Why might you do that? Well, as Alvina Ling said (in a great Twitter chat she co-hosted with Deborah Sloan and Katie Davis), you might do that if you think what you’re tweeting would be useful or interesting to all your followers, not just the person you’re chatting with.
On the flip side, if you want to use Twitter purely as a one-to-one tool…
Direct Messages (DMs) are private communications – they are only visible to the person you send them directly to, no one else. Like with all electronic communications, there can be glitches with DMs, but the Twitter rule is that it is private.
When you retweet someone using Twitter’s built in retweet function, your action shows up in your followers’ stream BUT it appears as a tweet from the person you retweeted (while noting that you are the source of the sharing).
If you use a “classic” style retweet – putting RT in front of what you’re sharing – you are actually following the rules of The Dot Effect above – you’re putting something before the @username.
But Wait! There’s More!
On Twitter clients like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, it’s easy to set up columns that let you track conversations rather than people. For example, here are two columns from my own Tweetdeck setup:
This means that even if I’m not following someone, I will still see their tweet if they use the #140Conf hashtag or if they type SCBWI, with or without the #.
So when you tweet, people can see you if they’re following your subject matter or a hashtag you used, even if they aren’t following you. (Tracking conversations is a great way to meet people who share your areas of interest, by the way.)
Please see the comments below for a bit about lists, yet another way folks can see your tweets without following you (and vice versa, naturally!).
Perhaps most importantly, unless you have your account locked down and private (which I’m not a fan of, by the way), remember that your tweets are public: they show up in Twitter Search, on Google, and in the Library of Congress.
Can or “Can”?
It is true that just about anyone “can” see your tweets in the end… but the above, I hope, explains who can, and is more likely to, see ’em based on how Twitter currently works.
As always, if you’ve got questions or comments, or other cases you think Wikipedia Brown needs to investigate, I hope to hear from you.