Does Twitter need to be killed or fixed?

by Mathew on May 5, 2008 · 17 comments

Like Hank Williams (no, not *that* Hank Williams) I too am fascinated by all of the recent talk in the blogosphere about how Twitter needs to be decentralized and/or disintermediated for the good of the Twitter-verse. In a post written for his own blog (creatively titled “Why Does Everything Suck?”) and cross-posted at Silicon Alley Insider, the New York-based entrepreneur says that if some of the critics of the company have their way, Twitter could find itself effectively disemboweled before it has had a chance to even become a business:

“It is entirely possible that before Twitter makes its first penny, it will become too important to exist in its current form, and the community will feel it has to be replaced by an open source, distributed framework. This should strike fear into the hearts of anyone who decides open their API.”

Why do people want to disintermediate Twitter? Dave Winer says it’s because he doesn’t like the idea of that stream of content disappearing somehow when the service is down (or when Twitter goes under), and compares the service to the Web pages that were created during the early days of the Web. Marc Canter, another cantankerous early Web guy, says Twitter needs to be decentralized and standardized because it’s as important as the DNS system behind the Internet.

Now I’m as big a fan of Twitter as the next guy — and maybe more so. But is this social network for the attention-deficit crowd, which 90 per cent of the world has never heard of, really as important as the DNS system, and so important that it can’t be left in the hands of one company? I think that’s more than a leap of logic — it’s like a double-backflip half-gainer of logic. It has to be flattering that people see Twitter as so crucial that it needs that kind of protection, but it still seems kind of… well, loopy.

It’s not that I’m not in favour of distributed apps, because I am. And if there’s a way to create a system that Twitter also plugs into, then that might be not a bad way to proceed — because as Steve O’Hear notes, anything that comes next has to respect what came before. Fred Stutzman says he doesn’t think it will work. Cindy Aleo-Carreira at Profy says that the disintermediation move is one of the downsides of the “build it and then figure out a business later” model. I think she has a point. I’d love to hear what Ev Williams thinks.

  • Doug Walker

    I have a weird relationship with twitter, or in FB lingo “it's complicated”. Sometimes I hate her, but boy do I miss her when she is gone. At one point I might have said the same thing about Facebook. When in the throes of addiction it can hard to tell the difference between an essential service and a frivolous luxury.

    Disintermediation of twitter or something twitter-like is innevitable. I am more loyal to Twhirl than I ever was to twitter and if twhirl operated the same way on a different protocol, I couldn't care less. The role that twitter plays in my life could very easily be snapped up by another (open-source or just more reliable) infrastructure.

  • JoeDuck

    Not killed or fixed – Twitter is fine. It is ridiculous to suggest that the content stream at Twitter is mission critical to anybody and everybody can revert to IM, email, or heaven forbid a phone call if Twitter is down for a few hours.

    Cnstant social connectivity carries the illusion of desirability, but I think if one carefully reflects on the downtimes one finds they are no big deal. Twitter as a nice little gossip and microblog connection and important link alert? Sure. Twitter as essential communications tool? Nope. Get a life!

  • John Minnihan

    With all due respect to Dave & Marc, this is just silly.

    I really like Twitter and have gone on record as saying I'd probably pay for a premium account. But too important to leave to one company?

    That's akin to saying that Paypal's money-transfer service is too important to be left to that company. Or that search is too important to be left to Google.

    Other money services have come & gone, and companies have tried (and will continue) to wrest search share from Google. Each of the services provided by those companies is vastly more important to the conduct of business on the Internet that Twitter.

    If you want to build a Twitter companion service, build it. If you want to siphon off every single message from the public time-line for “safe-guarding”… um, ok, do it. Knock yourself out.

    Just stop the silliness. Twitter is interesting & useful, but it is *not* a public utility.

  • mathewi

    I think you might be right about people being devoted (or perhaps
    addicted) to the function rather than the actual service or protocol,
    Doug — I would probably also be happy with just about anything that
    replicated the functionality, which isn't really rocket surgery by any
    means, just as I was happy to move from one IM client to another.

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  • engtech

    “Twitter needs to be decentralized and standardized because it’s as important as the DNS system behind the Internet.”

    say it with me now… I-R-C

  • Mark Dykeman

    Twitter's value, in my opinion, is in the collection of voices that Tweet together and less about its technical capabilities. The function is more useful that whatever platform it sits upon. And, in a nod to Winer, there is some value to some people in the actual content stored on Twitter's servers. Irreplaceable? No. But, as a historical artifact, worth keeping around, which I believe was Dave's concern, referencing the original WWW stuff from CERN.

  • David

    Off-topic comment: Is it just me, or is there something wrong with the pagination/navigation to older posts on this blog?

    For instance, in both IE and Firefox, when I put in I see the same posts as when I put in . The only difference is the presence of “Next Entries” link at the bottom of /page/4.

  • mathewi

    I think it's an issue with my new theme, David — it doesn't paginate the way the old one did. I'm still working on it. If you're looking for something specific, you can go to either the Search bar or the Archives link, both of which are in the upper right-hand corner.

  • svartling

    Not killed anyways. But maybe a better UI.

  • svartling

    Not killed anyways. But maybe a better UI.

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