This page will explain, in the simplest possible terms, why many use a period or other character before a @Twittername. While I once wrote a widely circulated explanation, it was rather dense, and I find that at least a third of my stream still doesn't understand the issue. Thus, I felt a simpler explainer might help.
What is the period (or other character) before the "@twittername" for?
In the simplest possible terms, it "breaks" Twitter's native (built-in) reply threading (a fancy techy term for connecting tweets together).
Without it, your Tweets beginning with @someName will NOT show up to your ALL of your followers, UNLESS they happen to follow both you and the person you are replying to.
Will only a period work?
Nope. Almost any character will work just as well.
All that matters is that the ?@ character combo be the very first characters in your tweet text. That said, the period, because I and a few others hammered Twitter streams with it for over 2 years, has become the de facto standard. I would not deviate from it because a) it will just confuse people, and b) there's no reason to. The period is so small, that while anyone can still see it, they visually just tune it out. It has no impact on Twitter readability.
Doesn't that waste a character in my text?
Yes, but LOLs waste 4 (including the space after), and we know you ain't giving them up, right Spanky? Now STFU about one lousy character and keep reading.
Why would Twitter want to hide my replies from my followers?
The logic is that by only showing replies to those who follow you and the person you're engaging, innocent bystanders who are not interested in your conversation will not have to see it.
Twitter did not always do this. All replies were seen by everyone no matter what. While this forced change of Twitter behavior caused a huge furor at the time, as with many Twitter changes, the userbase had no choice but to eventually learn to accept and live with it. In fact, even I have come to welcome the change. But then, I never did mind the logic. It was the very confusing way they chose to implement it (and spring it on us without much diplomacy) that irked me (and others).
But doesn't using this trick make it hard to follow a conversation?
Sometimes, but rarely. The downside is that it breaks Twitter's native connections, so users of Twitter.com (and some clients), cannot "thread together" the stream of messages between the two participants. This is often called "reading the conversation."
Why don't I (and possibly you) care? Because the best "conversations" usually involve many more than two people anyway, and the threading never worked for that at all. So I simply use "search" of all the names I care about. It's an extra step, but since most of my frequent engagements are all with people I follow anyway, we all see each other's updates. So it's only only when the discussion is with someone I don't follow, or when I want to see what the whole herd is saying that I bother to use the search method. But I do it so often, it's not a bother. I usually have a browser search page open all the time, and I just change the names and press go.
Should you always use this technique?
Absolutely not. The rule of thumb should be "Is this something of interest to enough of my followers that I want them all to see it?" If the answer is no, then simply reply normally without the period.
So why does @Shoq appear to use it so often?
- Because the majority of my tweets are about political or social issues that I feel are of interest to all or most of my stream or they probably wouldn't be following me in the first place.
- I may be responding to some wingnut with a dozen followers and I want to amuse or inform my stream about the idiot.
- I use it so often for 1 and 2 above that it's become a habit I don't always break when I should. Me so bad. I hate me for it. You can too.
Doesn't Tweetdeck (and other clients*) give you the option to see all replies?
Yes, it does. But Tweetdeck is only one of dozens of popular clients*, and support for this special feature is very rare at this time. And Twitter.com (the client which most people still use), has no such support.
Why doesn't Twitter just build an option into their client?
Because neither software development nor software developers are very rational entities. They do things in their own way, in their own time frame, and for their own reasons. They really don't give a rodent's rectum what you think about it.
But not all developers are total asshats. Hell, if I ruled the world—or at least Twitter— I would implement a "Reply and Reply to All" feature. Just like email. Yeah, it's simple. That's why they missed it.
Where can I learn more?
You can't. All of human knowledge on this topic stops right here. You could Google for it and prove me wrong, but nothing good could come of that. This issue is confusing enough, and you have already been well-armed with all that really matters. Learn to be content with the easy answers. There are so many hard ones that we all need to worry about.
*Oh, and WTF is a "Client?"
Something I get asked about often, so I think I should finally explain it here, even if it has very little to do with Twitter replies.
I can do that, because, at least within the narrow confines of this document, I rule the world :)
A client is a term programmers and us techy types like to use to describe a program that communicates with another programmed service on a remote computer somewhere. Tweetdeck is a client for Twitter, Google Reader is a client for news feeds, etc.. Often, many clients will exist for the same service. (Twitter has hundreds, but only a dozen or so good and well supported ones).
How do I use a Bidet?
Now this is something you could have Googled for yourself. But as you have so often come to expect from me, I've saved you all that time and effort. You're welcome.