When I was new to Twitter, I kept on seeing a “.” (period) before certain Twitter handles and I could not figure out why for the life of me. I knew that you could mention someone in a tweet by putting an “@” symbol before their Twitter handle, yet I kept on seeing people putting a period before that, and it almost seemed quite erroneous.
After some searching, I came to learn that there are in fact three, and not two, types of tweets, and those tweets vary in degree of privacy.
These are tweets that everyone uses and is familiar with. A tweet is “a very short message posted on the Twitter Web site: the message may include text, keywords, mentions of specific users, links to Web sites, and links to images or videos on a Web site” (yes, the word “tweet” has become a noun in the dictionary). Tweets are sent out by the millions and some days by the billions, and they are public for the world to see. Some examples of tweets include:
Mary just had a little lamb! http://bit.ly/wjz1Na #photo
Hey @Jack, I’ll race you to the top of the hill 🙂 –Jill
My brilliant son just traded our cow for some “magical” beans. #Fail #SMH
Twitter Direct Messages
A direct message (DM) is a personal message sent via Twitter to one of your followers. DMs are different than mentions and @replies. They are in essence a 140-character email sent from one person to another where only the two people involved can read and reply. However, there are some restrictions to DMs; you cannot send a direct message to a user who is not following you, and in turn, only people that you follow can send you a direct message. This eliminates the possibility of spam DMs filling up your Twitter message box.
Now we’ll dive into the meat of this post and answer why people put a “.” before twitter handles. On Twitter, people often reply to a friend or mention someone in a tweet that is meant specifically for that person. For example:
@LittleRedRidingHood ‘All the better to see you with, my dear. >> @Grandma what big eyes you have!
@Repunzel Let down your hair!
@PrinceCharming I think I may have lost my slipper at your Ball last night. Sorry I left in such a hurry, BTW. 🙁 #embarrassed
When Twitter sees that the first character in a tweet is an “@” symbol, it believes that you are talking directly to a person and considers it a “private tweet” (my phrase, not theirs). In order for someone besides myself and whomever I’m tweeting (for this case, I’ll use @JohnDoe) at to see that tweet, they must be following both myself (@wtwh_socialguru) and @JohnDoe. If they do not follow both of us, then a tweet such as “@JohnDoe hey, I think that this might help >> http://bit.ly/wm5mNz” will not show up in their news feed.
So what do you do if you want do tweet at someone directly but you want everyone to see?
Enter the “.”
Because Twitter only looks at the first character of a tweet, you can turn a private tweet into a public tweet by simply adding any character in front of the “@” symbol. Most commonly, that is done by either adding words/text, or if you’re already pushing 140 characters, you can simply put any punctuation at the beginning. People most often choose a “.” probably because it is small, unintrusive, and most eyes will pass right over it.
Some examples of proper/common usage might be:
.@SnowWhite didn’t your mother teach you not to take food from strangers? #LifeLesson
.@Goldilocks Next time, if the door isn’t locked, it doesn’t mean you can just walk right in! And that goes for everyone. #KeepOut
.@WillyWonka Look at what I just got!!! >> http://bit.ly/yFy5aD #LuckyDay #SeeYouSoon
And now you know. And knowledge is power!