Why Twitter is just an awful amalgamated mess for mePosted: July 18, 2012
Twitter is described as new media and, more specifically, a new medium. It’s a replacement for RSS, or so many say , eliminating the need for most blogs, etc. Here’s why I don’t buy that. When news flows to me, I really want to be able to scan the news from the time I left off to the time I’ve picked it up again. The real world analog would be knowing that yesterday’s news was in yesterday’s paper, and today’s news is in today’s paper. If I want to skip ahead and ignore yesterday’s news, I can, but if I want to go back that’s an option as well. When I’m done, I can throw away the papers as acknowledgement I’ve read them. In the RSS world, most readers have already implemented this type of workflow, but Twitter clients universally treat Twitter as a stream and do not give you the ability to easily establish what you’ve read and what you haven’t. Ironically, the last link even advocates that this is good for workflow, and I agree if you consider the amount of traffic that I used to get in my RSS reader when blogs were as much inane chatter as Twitter holds today. However, with the absence of noisy traffic, RSS has become an extremely high signal to noise method of consuming the news, and the “time value decay” as Tom Tunguz calls it really doesn’t work for me when consuming items I actually want to read.
For a stream of “chat”, which is essentially what Twitter is, to come streaming by where I’m going to assume the communication is very low value, then I think it should behave like oldschool IRC and chatrooms, or like Campfire for the hipper web-guys. In that model, conversation organizes around topics. I don’t have a bunch of people just shouting out hoping people will follow them, people individually join conversation topics, some choosing to stay there and establish an identity for themselves and their handle around that topic, and others flying from topic to topic. Either way, Twitter doesn’t work in that model. Sure, there’s hashtags, but frankly every time I follow a hashtag I rarely see a conversation, more like that scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where you walk down the street and hear all these soothsayers and prophets spouting prognostications… they seem like a hashtag to me.
I’d like to see a de-centralized protocol that gives us an IRC for the web. Short messages, but sent and hosted on our own servers, with the protocol bringing together the conversation in a way to subscribe to the entire “channel.” Perhaps rather than being standing topics, they’d organize around a particular news item. We could all contribute to the discussion, and the discussion would remain archived at that particular URL but the content would be contributed from each of our individual servers. If for some reason we wanted to remove our portion of the conversation, we’d simply delete it from our server. Web pages already routinely pull content from dozens of sites, so this doesn’t seem unfeasible. I think Dave Winer has some very similar ideas, and I see him writing about them, but I’m at a loss to know whether we have the same idea. I wish he had a place where his new vision for Internet conversation that he’s working on was clearly articulated very succinctly.
One other thing I’ve been meaning to mention, is why isn’t anything developed as a standard anymore? When I was first coming onto the Internet, everything used open standards. Now everything is proprietary. I recently read Dave Winer’s piece from 1994 called “Bill Gates versus The Internet,” which isn’t really all that relevant for this discussion, except he said:
The next versions of Windows, Macintosh and OS/2 are all Internet clients, with the standards supported — Gopher, WAIS, FTP, Telnet, Mosaic, news groups, etc. It’s an incredible thing because none of the platform vendors had any say in the definition of these standards!
In 1994, the standards were winning, and now it’s time to start the next wave of new standards. The type of conversation I’ve envisioning starts with a news topic or a blog post, and organizes itself, with content fed from any open source, and is discoverable on the web, indexable, and permanently referenceable. I think we should build it. Where can we bootstrap the conversation to build it? Is Dave already building that?