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.

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