5 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do With Twitter

by Elizabeth Mott

Twitter's 140-character posts define a 21st-century communication format that combines the conciseness of haiku with the timeliness of whatever's on its users' minds. Whether you're new to Twitter or just posted your several-thousandth tweet using the popular microblogging service, you can enhance your participation with shortcuts and secrets that expand the reach of what you say and take advantage of Twitter's less-documented options.


When you reply to a tweet, you begin your response with the "@" symbol followed by the username of the person to whom you're replying. If you click on the "Reply" link below a tweet in your timeline, the response automatically starts with that combination. To build a reply manually, you must type in the "@username" text yourself. Although other users who follow the person to whom you're replying and people who search for that username can see your reply, it only shows up automatically in the recipient's timeline if she's someone who follows you. The secret to broadening the visibility of your reply lies in typing a period in front of the reply marker, making your message start with ".@username" minus the quotation marks. Such a message appears in the timeline of everyone who follows you.

Direct Messages

Direct messages, or DMs, enable you to communicate privately to someone who follows you on Twitter, regardless of whether you follow her. You compose and read these one-to-one communications in a separate interface that you can access through the gear-shaped icon at the top of your timeline on the Twitter website. Unlike regular tweets, however, which only the person who sends them can delete, direct messages include the ability for either the sender or the recipient to delete them. If you received a DM that looks like spam or one that you don't want to retain for whatever reason, you can select it and trash it permanently on the DM screen.

Keyboard Shortcuts

The Twitter website interface provides you with a set of keyboard shortcuts you can use to enhance your online efficiency. To view them in a single screen, click on the gear-shaped icon at the top of your screen and choose "Keyboard Shortcuts." These time savers come in three categories. Actions enable you to block or unblock other subscribers, open a tweet or direct-message window, close open tweets, view the details of a single tweet, or retweet, favorite or reply to a tweet. Navigation shortcuts move through menus, tweets and timelines,; give you access to search functions, or load tweets that have posted since you last refreshed your timeline in the Web browser. Two-character timeline shortcuts trigger specific Twitter screens, including your profile, favorites, activity, lists and settings.

Search Tricks

Geotagging enables Twitter users to specify their geographic location below their tweets. Along with looking for your own username or other information that's important to you, you can use Twitter search to look for tweets that include specific words and come from people located in or near a specific city. After you type your keywords in the search box, add the words "near:[cityname statename]," without the punctuation, replacing [cityname statename] with a location to condition your search results geographically. If you don't want to see search results that contain website links, end your search text with "? filter:links," without the punctuation.

Twitter Archive

Once you post more than 3,200 tweets, you no longer can load and view all your Twitter updates. That doesn't mean your Twitter history vanished, just that it won't appear through the regular online or mobile interface through which you use the service. At your request, Twitter will prepare a text archive that contains all your tweets up to the point at which you ask for them. The button that triggers the delivery of your tweet repository appears on your settings page, which you access through the gear-shaped icon at the top of your website-based timeline. When Twitter finishes preparing your archive, you'll receive an email message that contains a download link to a ZIP file. Inside it, you'll find an index.html document you can load in any Web browser.

About the Author

Elizabeth Mott has been a writer since 1983. Mott has extensive experience writing advertising copy for everything from kitchen appliances and financial services to education and tourism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from Indiana State University.

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