Understanding Twitter @replies

June 5, 2012 | By

Today, I did a random poll of a few co-workers and friends about Twitter replies. I asked the following question: “If I send the following tweet, who will see it in their timeline?”

@myfriend Hello

Almost every friend I asked had the same answer, “All of your followers”. That’s actually incorrect. Only users that follow both of us see the tweet. This is documented in the Twitter help pages (under “Things to Note”).

To clarify, this only happens when the tweet starts with a “@”, which indicates that the tweet is a reply and replies get special treatment.

Recently, someone tweeted to promote a recent blog post of mine, but they wrote it this way:

@gregsramblings just blogged about …..

Unfortunately, their 10k+ followers didn’t see it. Only users that follow both of us saw it, which is a much smaller number, so I decided to create a little illustration of this Twitter oddity below.

Notice the common workaround of prepending a dot to the tweet as shown in the 4th tweet below. There is nothing special about the “.” character. It could have been any other valid character. If you want all of your followers to see the tweet, don’t start it with a “@”. Notice the 2nd tweet below.

It’s important to note that the filtering of replies is a feature of twitter, not a shortcoming. Most replies should have limited visibility because you are typically involved in an exchange of tweets with another individual. However, it’s important to understand the difference between a reply and a normal tweet.

Hover or tap one of the tweets below to see which followers will see it in their Twitter timeline.

venn diagram


Filed in: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , ,

About the Author (Author Profile)

Greg is a developer advocate for the Google Cloud Platform based in San Francisco, California
  • Thanks so much for this write-up Greg. I couldn’t be easier to understand and it helps.

  • Thanks, Greg. Neat infographic!

    One ripple effect of that is that when two people chat back and forth, with their @names in initial position, all people who follow both will see all responses. Could get noisy when they’re trying to decide on a restaurant or such. 😉 Twitter’s “Direct” messages (initial “dm @username”) can help with private convos, but Twitter UI has been hiding, almost deprecating Direct messages these days, may not be as viable. The upshot of all this is that it’s hard to follow two people who use Twitter as chat like this; unfollowing either will reduce timeline noise.

    One related bit of Twitterania is that they’ll often replace an URL with a shortcut, which can be counterproductive if you’re providing the raw URL for knowledge/security reasons. Sometimes tweeting things like “adobe*com” instead of “adobe.com” can help.


  • BigBossSNK

    So use “@someone …” to make the tweet visible only to common followers,
    or ” @someone …” (prefix a space) to make it public.

    • That’s true, but at times in the past Twitter has stripped leading and trailing spaces (and at times simply not published tweets which started with a left-parenthesis!), so that’s how the .@somename came about.