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The Subtle Art of Tweet Compression

December 23rd, 2008 · 6 Comments

Ah, Twitter. Even as your founders struggle to find a way to monetize you, my fondness for you grows daily. You’re short, you’re sweet, and you’re easy to ignore when I’m not in the mood. What’s not to like about Twitter?

Twitter is an interesting communication platform, because it has one very powerful constraint: 140 characters. That’s all you get – no more, less if you want to. I know, I know, you can’t even fit some url’s in 140 characters. That’s where link compression comes in – it takes a long link and replaces it with a short link that magically re-directs to your long link.

Similarly, Twitter forces its users to compress their thoughts, to squeeze them into a tiny little box without losing the meaning of their tweet. I’ve noticed several different techniques for dealing with the little twitter box, and I’ve decided to share them with you.

The Ellipsis
This technique, practiced frequently by Guy Kawasaki, involves entering the first 100 or so characters of an article (usually the teaser) followed by ellipsis (…) and a link. Here’s an example:
guykawasaki Festivus Finds Following: Why risk telling your sister what you really think of her scumbag baby daddy after a ..

This approach is okay. It would do well in a twitter search, but requires me to click and read to get the rest of the story. Essentially, it’s using twitter to promote an article or share a link, but not necessarily to share a thought.

Can’t fit everything into a single tweet? Make it two! Or three! Or ten. Whatever. Here’s an example, courtesy of csterwa, who uses the Episodes like cocaine:
Tweet #1: csterwa interesting how normal accidents theory describes particular areas of managing these normal accidents; sounds familiar to software syste …

Tweet #2: csterwa the problem, in my mind, w/ normal accidents theory is that I don’t know where it falls into this category

Tweet #3: csterwa yes, nuclear is put into this category but couldn’t other things like abortion technology, the internet, etc… be categorized by some

Tweet #4: csterwa to be a normal accident waiting to happen?

This approach is okay for people who follow you, but not so good for people who search twitter on key words. What if I found tweet #3 by searching twitter for nuclear? Where’s the rest of the thought?

This is familiar to texters and IRC users – just replace phrases with their first letters, or shorter phonetic equivalents. LOL, TTFN, etc. Heck, make up abbreviations if you have to: so what if nobody knows BIANYM means back in a New York minute. They will after you start using it!

The problem with using abbreviations is, aside from the learning curve (I still have to google some of the crap my colleagues say on IRC just to follow them), that they’re for fairly common phrases anyway. They’re good for replies, or for telling all your followers a YouTube video is really funny (i.e. “ROFL“), but they’re not really that useful outside of run of the mill stuff, like csterwa’s series of tweets above.

Here’s a real example I found in the Tweets I follow:
QualityFrog LoadRunner/PerformanceCenter default report graphs R often misleading due 2 code setting granularity w/o regard 4 specific config & results

Not bad.

Back in the old days, you had to pay by the letter when you sent a telegram. So people dropped unnecessary words. “House burned down. All dead.” It’s kind of robotic and terse, but it does save space. I don’t like it, but it would do well in searches and it’s usually easy to follow. Some people take it to extremes, making what they think is a clear thought very difficult to understand.

Strong Writing
Choose your words carefully. Read it twice, make it nice, then post it. It’s kind of antithetical to the whole idea of twitter (a short “blog” that you can post a thought to without a lot of thought and effort), but this is what I like the best. Every now and then I will read a succinct thought in a tweet that makes me think – wow, that person worked hard to get all that in 140 characters. Here’s an example:
marick Wrote “you’re the master of your fate, captain of your soul” to reader, then recalled McVeigh poisoned those words

However you end up compressing your tweets, make it an art. Be good at it.

~ Dave

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Will // Dec 29, 2008 at 6:25 am

    I was guessing that BIANYM was "Because I Am Not Your Mother". And I don't know anyone that says "back in a New York minute"

  • 2 davidray // Dec 29, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Well, I totally like "Because I Am Not Your Mother," better. I'm going to use that on somebody soon…

  • 3 13 Dos and Don'ts with Twitter by Eric Rodriguez | Wavyx // Feb 13, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    […] You can also refer to this article about best practices to short-tweet. […]

  • 4 YossiO // Oct 14, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    I wrote a little tool to compress tweets. It works on Firefox (there's also an experimental version for other browsers). I even made a homepage for it with a teensy 8-character URL: http://www.✄.tk

    Have fun!

  • 5 Natan // Jan 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    I have another tool that compresses Tweets. It’s called Tweet It In and it works by adding abbreviations, contractions, removes vowels, replaces with unicode chars, and shortens urls – all in real time as you type. It also connects with Twitter to let you Tweet without having to copy and paste. It definitely saves time :)

    Another one worth mentioning is Tweet It In. It lets you compress Tweets by replacing in abbreviations, contractions, unicode chars, removing vowels from long words, and shortening long links in real-time as you type. It also connects to Twitter so that you can Tweet without having to copy and then paste.

  • 6 Natan // Jan 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    I accidentally typed the text twice. I thought the text was gone after refreshing my tab. Srry..

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