Day One: Wow
by Stowe Boyd

The response to the announcement of has been amazing. A great deal of support, many people wanting to get involved, and a number of substantive thoughts.

Just as a sampling of some of the feedback, here’s a few links:

  • [via Bruce Sterling, Beyond The Beyond, Web Semantics: Microsyntax]

    (((Super-interesting to see such a deliberate effort to track and shape web-semantics. It’s like the first pure-play web-semantic startup.)))

    (((Imagine what twenty years of stuff like this could do to the English language. We could cyber-mangle English almost as thoroughly as we’ve mangled banks, newspapers and telephones.)))

    I guess we are a start-up in the general sense, although we are a non-profit, and working generally for communitarian purposes. But let’s hope we can avoid mangling Twinglish. (which suggests we will have to contend with multiple languages, too.)

  • [via Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch, RT: @Microsyntax Sets Out To Make Sense Of #twittergrammar]

    One of the side effects of Twitter’s 140-character limitation is that users are coming up with their own microsyntax and abbreviated Twitter grammar to make their Tweets more expressive. If your are merely retweeting someone else’s tweet, for example, you acknowledge that by placing a “RT” at the beginning of your micro-message. If you are replying publicly to another user or just referring to them, you indicate that with an “@username.” You can even add hashtags to a tweet so that it shows up in searches for specific topics (please use “#twittergrammar” if you are going to RT this post).

    New conventions pop up every day. To make sense of them, and develop new ones, Stowe Boyd is launching tomorrow. In a debut blog post, he insists that it is not a “standards body,” but that is effectively what it might become. And we need one, because Twitter isn’t setting any standards.

    Hmmm. We certainly need conventions, and it would be helpful for everyone if we didn’t have to learn to parse 17 different formats for reviews in tweets, for example, but that doesn’t have to bring with it the baggage of slow-moving official standards organizations. I did my time in those, working on programming language, database, and operating systems standards. We can’t go down that path in the heated-up environment that Twitter and other streaming tools are proliferating in.

  • [via Chris Messina, Factory City, Stowe Boyd Launches]
    Stowe Boyd launched this morning and announced that I will be the first member of his advisory board.

    Stowe and I have batted around a number of ideas for making posts on Twitter contain more information than what is superficially presented, and this new effort should create a space in which ideas, research, proposals and experiments can be made and discussed.

    Ultimately, my hope is that will reach beyond Twitter and provide a forum for thinking through how we encapsulate data in channels that don’t natively support metadata by using conventions that express as much meaning as much as they encode.

    Since I originally proposed hashtags in August of 2007, I’ve thought a lot about what these conventions mean, and how wide adoption of something can radically elevate the field of competition.

    There is a similar opportunity here, where, if the discourse is developed properly, such conventions can actually enable a greater range of expression over narrow channels, allowing for wider participation in and understanding of conversations

    Chris is a good friend, and has been great contributor to the web space; I am excited to have him involved with

  • [via Lucian Parfeni, Softpedia, Organization Aims to Bring Order to Twitter’s Microsyntax Chaos] wants to standardize some of the conventions used on Twitter
  • [via John Lianoglou, Uncarved, Microsyntax — Informally Canonizing Linguistic Evolution]
    A new website, is opening its doors. It aims at an attempt to offer some canonization to emergent linguistic conventions that grow organically on Twitter.


    I’m fascinated by the mission of Boyd’s new site because it implicitly reframes language as action — an event unfolding — rather than a thing. It is a recognition of order emerging from chaos, aiming to assist its development and refinement.

    This perspective stands in compelling contrast with arguments that are critical of the influence that technologies such as Twitter (or texting, instant messaging, and the rest) are affecting upon the modern written language; particularly as practiced by young people still in school, who are likely to apply these linguistic practices in “inappropriate” contexts, such as when writing papers.

    The main reason language (both written and spoken) serves humankind’s communications needs so well is that we’re able to largely agree upon practices around how to encode and decode ideas, such that their meanings largely survive the transmission.

    Notably, Boyd’s new website seeks to bridge the gap between emergent linguistic practices and informal canon.

  • [via Dominik, Twitter]
    Is it just me or is this whole microsyntax stuff.. too much?

    We have felt some backlash, where people believe that completely unmanaged experimentation will work things out, or that we shouldn’t have any notion of microsyntax over and above those conventions already in place. But mostly not. Mostly it seems like people lean the other way, thinking that these activities and their outcomes could help the community as a whole.

  • [via Andrew Keen, Twitter]
    in the real-time stream, is the next big thing microsyntax? @stoweboyd

I can’t begin to summarize the torrent of comments and questions coming from the Twittosphere: I will try to make sense of that in a more deliberate piece in the next day or so, organizing various recommendations and observations from literally thousands of tweets and emails.

Chris Messina To Serve As First Advisory Board Member

by Stowe Boyd

I am glad to announce that Chris Messina will be working with me on His experience with grassroots communities (like BarCamp, OAuth, and microformats) is dead on, and his invention of hashtags certainly indicates his deep interest in the area.

Working Sessions

by Stowe Boyd

I plan to start having some open working sessions to discuss over the next weeks and months. Didn’t have the lead time to do anything for the 140 Twitter Conference this week, but I am interested in setting something up at the Pulver 140 Characters conference on 16-17 June in New York City.

If you are interested in participating, please leave a comment on this post. I will post information and location as that gets resolved. A Messifesto

by Stowe Boyd

Over the last several months, I have written a great deal about new types of ‘microsyntax’ for Twitter at my Message blog. By microsyntax I mean various ways to embed structured information right into the text of Twitter messages. The most well-known sort of microsyntax are the retweet convention (or ‘RT’) and hashtags (or twitter tags). (I have also referred to this as microstructure, but I believe that microsyntax is perhaps more self-explanatory.)

These microsyntax conventions arose from the user community, and are variably and differently supported by Twitter and the many clients that are in use. Many people don’t remember that the use of ‘@’ to indicate that a message was to be sent to a specific user’s attention (a reply or a mention) is a convention that grew up with the service’s earliest days.

We have some relatively mature conventions — like hashtags (‘#twitter’ or ‘#ruby’, for example) — that have spread into wide use but are not directly supported by Twitter itself, and where different applications may support them in very different ways.

At the other extreme, we have new conventions appearing — like CoTweet’s use of ‘^’ preceding initial of authors in group twitter accounts, my recent suggestion for ‘/’ as syntax to precede or enclose locations (as in ‘/Germany’ or ‘/156 South Park, San Francisco CA/’), or my proposal for subtags (like ‘#sxsw.kathysierra’ or ‘#w2e.PR’) — and these could lead to confusion or conflicts between contending approaches to the same purpose.

As a result of all this activity, and the potential for collective action in these efforts, we are launching a new non-profit,, with the purpose of investigating the various ways that individuals and tool vendors are trying to innovate around this sort of microsyntax, trying to define reference use cases that illuminate the ways they may be used or interpreted, and to create a forum where alternative approaches can be discussed and evaluated. We may even get involved in the development of proof-of-concept implementations that can act as reference architectures for microsyntactic extensions to the Twitter grammar emerging in the real time stream.

In the upcoming weeks, I and other contributors will be enumerating all the known microsyntax for Twitter, and exploring the interaction of those which each other and with other, external applications.

We will also be setting up a means for others to become more directly involved in the organization, and planning open meetings exploring various topics in microsyntax.

I am currently the sole worker bee for, and I will be serving as managing director and chair of the organization. Over the next weeks, I will be bringing some contributors into the organization as advisors and participants. We will see what is necessary for organization and governance, but my hope is that an active community will drive quite a lot of the activity that the organization is focused on. We will be active as a catalyst and a shared context for these discussions to take place.

I am not planning to take on the role of a standards body, but instead to develop shared conventions that can help us enrich our experience on Twitter and related applications. will be supported by contributions, and has been founded by an initial grant from and TAG.

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