May 7th, 2008
Now that Twitter has hit Japan in Japanese, and as I wait for the first official word about how that is going for the good people at Twitter Japan, I have been putting my mind to the future of Micro-blogging and more importantly, how important is Twitter in that picture.
There have been a lot of discussions recently about ways to construct a distributed micro-blogging environment. Dave Winer triggered a conversation on distributed storage and distribution of Twitter but all the consensus amounted to was a lot of chatter about clever ways to backup your Twitter feeds to recover when Twitter goes down.
For me this doesn’t directly address the problem. It fixes Twitter uptime issues to some extent, but that is not a solution for the masses, it is a solution for the elite who can realise that this is an issue to think about in the first place. Most users will use something or not, they are not looking for ways to retrofit a service.
As mentioned in much of this discussion, the structure of micro-blogging (and we can use Twitter as the base model) can be its own data structure, not so dissimilar to RSS. There are a few different types of information that need to be requested, but surely they are all easily rendered with XML…. but something a little bit more clever to handle the unique nature of the exchange.
As it turns out, as I have been writing this post, Michael Arrington released a very nice piece outlining how Twitter could be opened up technically based on what a bunch of smart people who know about this kind of thing have been talking about. It demonstrates a viable system utilising XMPP that can push messages to clients rather than having to continually check for updates. This need to continuously check for new data is what was widely regarded as the biggest obstacle for an open Twitter-like platform.
As soon as someone does the work to get an open platform running, does that mean the end for Twitter and its hefty status as the “next best thing”?
Very likely “yes”.
The brand of Twitter will still more than likely continue but you have to think that the number of roll-your-own micro-blogging platforms will boom and eventually most of the micro-blogging for the bulk of normal users (as opposed to the geek centric Twitter users of today) will collect around the use of open micro-blogging from the big guys … Google, MSN, Mixi (for the Japanese users), Yahoo (if the shareholders don’t tear it to shreds).
Japan has really only just got started with Twittering if what we hear from Twitter Japan is true, which implies that micro-blogging is well suited to a Japanese market. The heavy use of mobile phones for accessing the internet (100million mobile users vs 85million PC users) and the heavy affinity for blogging (Japanese is the most popular blogging language in the world) would all point to a boom about to hit Japanese shores once the mainstream gets a hold of it.
Counter to support of an open platform is the reluctance to get too heavily involved with open source projects (mostly due to language difficulties)… which brings us back to Twitter Japan. The people behind Twitter Japan are Digital Garage, who have been very successful in bringing foreign web assets into the Japanese market. One of the projects that they very successfully brought in was Movable Type,… yes, an open source project. While the rest of the world moves heavily towards Word Press, Japan uses Movable Type more often than not.
Chances are the Digital Garage would be the best ones to bring such an open micro-blogging platform into a Japanese market that has some reluctance to adopt foreign projects without their hand held, but they of course have other motives with the Twitter relationship well established.
The question I have been thinking about is, “When (yes, that’s a when, not if) an open micro-blogging platform is established, will Twitter follow?”. I think the boom Japanese use of Twitter implies that Japan will have a lot to say about that.
Second question, “Does it matter?” … will Twitter be over-run by everyone else or will they have time to have the market controlled by the time an alternative is available.
I am looking forward to finding out the answers.