A Proposal to Solve the Bilingual Tweeting Problem

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I was cleaning my Twitter account last week from unwanted peeps in the following list. It is really damn hard to keep up with a 1000 tweeps tweeting over 20 messages every second, only one of which could be valuable. So after I cleaned it up, I actually got a better stream from my friends, more tweets in Russian, and more personal tweets, rather than titles and links to blog posts via twitterfeed ;) which is why I tweeted this out:

@kovshenin: I just cleaned up my followings list. If you’re using twitterfeed and flooding my stream, I’ll unfollow you, unless you’re @washingtonpost ;)

Anyhow, this post is not about twitterfeed, spam or whatsoever, but it is about unwanted tweets in your timeline. Tweets in a language that you can’t read.

I myself sometimes tweet in Russian and are worried about my followers that don’t understand that, so I try to keep it at a minimum and mostly @ replies. This is good, but what if you really need to tweet in two different languages? Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has got two accounts, @MedvedevRussia and @MedvedevRussiaE and does the tweeting separately. I guess others do it the same way, but hey, what if you’re tweeting in 5 different languages? And what about 10?

Yes, Tweetdeck and other software can use Google Translate to translate the tweets, but that doesn’t work out quite well. What if I can speak two languages? I don’t need that fuzzy Russian to English translation, and believe me, neither do you!

I got a proposal to make this end. An easy one and a difficult one, and we’ll start with the easy one: attach a language code as an @ reply to the beginning of your tweet if it’s language specific, and to be able to read these sort of tweets you can follow that specific language code.

For instance, if I’d like to send out a tweet in Russian and wouldn’t like my non-Russian speaking followers to see it, I do this:

@ru My text in Russian goes here, whoever is not following the Russian language code will not see this.

And if I want to tweet one in German, I do the following:

@de My German message goes here, people not following that code won’t see it.

Here’s why it works. Twitter @ replies are public, but users don’t see them in their timelines unless they’re following both parties — the one issuing the message and the one mentioned in the message. I think this was one of the crucial changes to Twitter to reduce unwanted stuff in the public timeline, and almost resulted in a #followfriday fail.

So to see tweets tagged with the Russian language code all we have to do is simply follow @ru. I think that’s easy enough to understand, right? Anyways, one problem here that will need to be solved is the @ru @en @de and other Twitter accounts that are obviously registered ;)

Second option (the difficult one) is to get Twitter to introduce languages for tweets. I know they did this with Twitter Search and it seems to work okay, but this time there has to be something better — perhaps use Google to identify what language the tweet was issued in. And have profile settings where you can select the languages you’d like to see in your public stream.

This option would be ideal, but is difficult to implement, first option might be a little disruptive, but what I know for sure is that we have to get rid of multiple accounts created for separate languages. Hope you have a great day ;)

About the author

Konstantin Kovshenin

WordPress Core Contributor, ex-Automattician, public speaker and consultant, enjoying life in Moscow. I blog about tech, WordPress and DevOps.


  • It's a nice idea, but falls at the first hurdle of what constitutes an @ reply. The filtering to people you follow only happens when the tweet is an *actual* reply, in other words has an in_reply_to_id and in_reply_to_user set when it was posted. If you just start a message "@ru message_here" everyone following your account would still see it. You'd have to reply to a specific tweet that @ru had sent for the filtering to work.

    You need three accounts to test this. Your main account (a), one you follow from your main account (b) and one you don't follow from your main account (c).

    If (b) just sends a message "@(c) This is my message", you will still see that in the @(a) account. If (b) *replies* to (c), (a) won't see it.

    • Stuard good point. I did test it out using two accounts. I unfollowed one person on one account (A) and @ mentioned him (without in_reply_to_id) from the second account (B). The update didn't appear on account A. I then followed that very same person using account A and issued a second mention from account B. The message was visible from account A.

      Seems to work as I expected, well at least on Twitter's web client, and I don't think it will differ for other clients, since they all use the same API methods to grab the user timelines.

      Did you test your theory on your side? Thanks for your input!