, Twitter, and posting between the two

It’s now the trendy thing to write an essay about why Twitter is doomed, or why it’s not doomed and all its competitors are doomed instead. And god knows I wouldn’t want to break the back of that trend. I’ve been playing with, a Twitter clone written in PHP. Lots of Twitter people are becoming frustrated with seeing the famous Fail Whale on Twitter’s “we are currently down” page, and people are starting to look elsewhere. There are lots (and lots and lots) of alterni-Twitters (which is a problem I’ll come back to in a moment), but is attracting one of the communities I operate in, open source people. This is because is entirely open source: the codebase is called Laconica. This is a nice idea. First things first, though: I don’t want to update two places at once. Identica* doesn’t have an API (yet), but I wanted to post things to Twitter and have them appear on Identica too. So, I present the Twitter Reflector. Download as a tarball or check it out from Subversion or browse the source. The README tells you how to set it up. It uses Jabber to post to Identica, which isn’t ideal, but (as mentioned) there’s no API. So now you can send Twitter posts to, which is helpful. Now, why Twitter is good, why is good, and why everything else isn’t. If you just wanted to post Twitter comments to then you can stop reading now. Twitter looks like it ought to be easy to clone, and it isn’t. This is why there are lots of Twitter clones, and why none of them have taken off. The basic principle of microblogging is indeed an easy one, I agree. But all the other Twitter-alikes are missing something. They don’t have SMS sending, or SMS following, or they don’t have an API, or they don’t have lots of desktop clients, or they have one desktop client that doesn’t run on everyone’s machine, or they don’t do IM. What makes Twitter good is two things: the first is that you can get at it in so many ways. And because there are so many ways, people can build lots of things on top of it. For example, if you want to do the reverse of what the above reflector does (post your messages to and have them show up on Twitter) then you don’t need an extra program, because it already exists: Twitterfeed. Simply sign up at Twitterfeed, and use it to send posts from your Identica feed to Twitter, and it’s all done. That’s the power of having an expressive and complete set of APIs. It can’t be underestimated. The second reason Twitter is good is that everyone’s already there. They got first-mover advantage. There’s no point going to an alternative because none of your friends are there. This is also the reason that Twitter has fifty desktop clients and that things like Twitterfeed exist; it’s worth the investment. It does mean that if people leave Twitter they’ll all leave together and the bottom drops out of their market, but that’s the way the internet cookie crumbles. Photo sharing sites have the same issue — it’s difficult to build a Flickr competitor because everyone’s already at Flickr, so none of the “social” stuff happens elsewhere because you never hit a critical mass of people. So, what’s good about then? Well, for me, the big things are open-sourceness and federation. The underlying codebase being open source is a huge win, from my perspective. It means people other than the team can work on adding new features, it means that we can see what’s going on, and it means that there are more open source programs in the world. I like this. Other people may not, but what the hell. The other advantage is federation. This is all about the OpenMicroBlogging specification; it basically blows away the “all my friends are at Twitter so I must be too” point. It means that you can subscribe on one microblogging service to people on other microblogging services. I could be at, you could be at Twitter, someone else could be at Jaiku or Pownce or wherever else, and we all read one another’s messages, happy as Larry. It levels the playing field. I can subscribe to Twitter without problems. This is a great idea which is rather hampered by the fact that basically no-one has implemented it yet. It’s in Laconica, though, so Identica has it. It helps get around the scaling problems that Twitter are having, too: you don’t need one centralised Twitter service any more. There can be lots of little islands, all of which talk to one another. No more scaling problems. No more Fail Whale. People who need the extras that Twitter provides can use Twitter quite happily (as I’m doing; I like SMS!), people who don’t need that but do need other services can use something else that provides those other services. The basic concept of microblogging has been commoditised thanks to OpenMicroBlogging — it’s become a simple thing to implement anywhere. Microblogging services can now compete on which extras they offer. That’s why I like Oh, and they let you create your account with OpenID, which I did. It’s a win all round. Development’s going on at a fast pace on the Laconica codebase, so expect to see more and more appear over there. Blizzard’s already added support to Whoisi, so things are moving quickly. I don’t know whether the trickle of Twitterites in’s direction will continue, but thanks to the reflector code above, I’m now on without putting in any extra effort. That’s for those of you who want to track it.

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