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.