Proper Form Applies In 140 Characters or Less As Well

Twitter is often written about, often used and as often abused. Everyday, thousands of tweets fly by me at break neck speed due to the volume of people I follow. Many of these short form messages in 140 characters or less are eloquent and precise. Others constitute butchered English short form that demonstrates a lack of attention to detail.

The rule of “Say it in 140″ is critical. If you cannot convey your thought in 140 characters or less the first time, chances are your audience will miss the next tweet that continues the thought. Clearly, there are exceptions to every rule and often entire dialogues will erupt between two ore more twitter users. However, in general, a thought should be expressed clearly, concisely and entirely in a single tweet. It’s good form and it’s also good practice.

I’ve noticed that, since my adoption of Twitter in November of 2006, I have gotten much better at formulating these thoughts. Let me say, for the record, it’s hard! Very involved concepts take utmost care and effort to convey in short form.

As difficult as it is, especially when it comes down to cutting and trimming words, to not butcher the English language. Like prose, journalism or poetry, lack of attention to these details may earn the tweeter a bad reputation, and could be seen as unprofessional.

Does that mean that perfect sentence structure is required? Hardly. Shortened sentences are perfectly fine. However, choppy thoughts that are merely chopped to cram – maybe not so much.

Other areas of concern for me, as a Twitter reader, are:

  • Automatically pushed messages that simply consume an RSS feed and push tweets out into the ether. Generally, these are not well formed (being formed for a Blog post and not a tweet, and are cut off. Incomplete thought = FAIL.
  • Multiple streams of thought in a single tweet. Usually, with the intention of efficiency, someone might respond to two tweets at once. Though I suggest eliminating multiple tweets above, that rule applies to tweets around a single thought. If you have two thoughts you want to respond to, send two tweets. It’s a commodity.
  • Retweets are awesome. They are tweets from someone else that you think are valuable enough to “REtweet” to your own followers. Usually, retweets are indicated with a preceding “RT”. The area of concern here, as it applies to format, surrounds multiple retweets. Example: “RT @UTexasMcCombs: RT @statesman The House passed the $787 billion stimulus bill 246-183″. Retweets should be limited to the original poster. Everything else is simply noise and unnecessary. Plus, it removes available characterage.
  • Prolific use of “U” and other shorthand. The shortened form of “You” came from text messaging where it was more difficult to actually type a word out. Thus, we have tragic sentences like, “OMG WTF R U asking?” – Folks, we’re talking two additional characters. For the love of all that is good and right in this world, type the word out and make a statement about your intelligence.

I write this post because there is a new book coming out entitled “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form” which seeks to help people understand this concept of form and style. It’s written by veteran Twitter users @dom and @adamjackson and thus comes from actual experience. Hat tip, by the way, to Jenna Wortham who covered this over at the New York Times Bits blog.

What are some of your Twitter form suggestions?

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Twitter Helping Twitter Find Jobs

Late last night, the #rtjobs hashtag showed up on my radar over on Twitter. It was being championed by @You2Gov as a mechanism to help connect those looking to fill positions with those looking for work. Naturally, I fall into this last group but I often hear about jobs that I am not able to consider, whether because of skill set or geography.

So while the #rtjobs project is developing over on Twitter, I slapped up a site that would help organize that information. Using WordPress and the Twitter Search API, I put together a site that I hope is both useful and productive.

It’s all about helping people find open opportunities and get placed. If you are on Twitter, you can help by passing along any info on open opportunities. Use the hashtag #rtjobs. If you have a position open, post it to Twitter using the same hashtag.

And of course, we could use some publicity on this. It’s only as good as the number of people who are aware. So if you’re a blogger, blog it. If you use social tools like Digg, StumbleUpon or Facebook, share this post with your network of people. Let the good karma flow in this really bad economy.

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Twitter Phishing: Protecting Yourself

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Or at least, a funny thing happened over the weekend with regards to Twitter, spam and phishing (from Chris Pirillo). I really had no plans to outline my thoughts on the scam, because it is already being covered ad nauseum. However, I feel like I have to anyway.

The scam operates like any typical Windows worm and begins with a DM from a victimized Twitter follower. That direct message contains a link to a malicious (and unnamed) domain that screams “password stealing”. Nevertheless, gullible Twitter users click on the link and enter a page that looks an awful lot like the Twitter.com login screen (okay, it looks identical). The user enters login information thinking they are logging into Twitter and, in the blink of the eye, a malicious site has access to your Twitter account information.

215693116_8e4a24d11c_mThis is a very important concept to get. The user inadvertently gives Twitter account login information to a malicious site. I will rail more on this concept in a bit. Keep it in your mind.

The malicious site then proceeds to send DMs with the infectious link on behalf of the user. I have gotten seven of these in the past 24 hours.

Folks, Twitter is like email. You can be infected by the innocence of friends, Please be careful. You really don’t want a malicious sites having access to confidential business ideas, your common and unchanging password that you use everywhere, or intoxicatingly passionate messages to your lover. Be wary of this scam and tread lightly. If you get a message like this, contact the sender and advise them to change their password immediately. Unlike email worms, you cannot be affected by merely looking at the DM – only by clicking the link.

There are several problems here, as there are with most internet security problems. One is the technical problem (site can login and perform actions on your behalf). The other is a psychological problem (Twitter users giving away their username and password to untested, unvetted and untrusted third parties).

Twitter promises that they are working on a solution to the technical problem and that it will look like some form of OAuth, an authentication protocol similar to OpenID for application to application authentication. OAuth, when instituted, promises to provide a passwordless trust and authentication framework that should solve the problem that requires third party Twitter apps to request a users login information. However, for all their promises and the urgency that is increasing among developers, Twitter does not seem to be in a hurry to provide this protocol.

Additionally, computer users have been relentlessly brainwashed by anti-virus companies, corporate computing policies and other persistent reminders, to adhere to basic security practices. Don’t open attachments from unknown users. Run anti-virus. Use hard to guess passwords and change them often. And so on. And so forth. Folks, these concepts are basic life-guiding principles and apply on the web too. Don’t give away your username and password to anyone. Ever. Unless they are vetted and trusted by you and you understand what the ramifications are.

In the absence of an OAuth-style technical release from Twitter, and the lack of consistent user discipline, it is my recommendation that Twitter users no longer provide third party apps with their login information, regardless of how compelling the app is. It is not safe and it is an unwise security practice that flies in the face of everything you have been learning for years when it comes to your own personal computing practices. Twitter apps are defined as anything Twitter related that is not directly on the twitter.com domain.

Maybe Twitter will get serious about their security here.

Photo Credit: dinobirdo

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