Twitter: the decentralization debate

The debate over whether Twitter has become so important a form of communication that it should be standardized — and thereby removed in some sense from the company that created it — has been going on for awhile now, and recently reared its head again on the Gillmor Gang, the podcast run by tech guru Steve Gillmor. As described by blogger Chris Gerrish, the discussion focused on how a more decentralized Twitter-style “micro-blogging” standard could effectively take over from the service, something Gerrish calls “A Venezuelan moment,” in what I assume is a reference to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and his various nationalization schemes.

I wrote about this awhile back, and many people scoffed at the idea that Twitter was important enough to be having these kinds of conversations, although Marc Canter has compared it to the domain name system that powers the Internet, and Dave Winer has said he’s afraid that losing Twitter could be like losing Web pages from the early days of the Internet (although he has praised Gerrish’s post).

A couple of fascinating side-points to this debate: The first is Steve Gillmor’s long and (in classic Gillmor style) rambling and fundamentally disjointed guest post on TechCrunch about this debate, in which he compares Twitter and “the cloud” to the blood-brain barrier (incorrectly, according to one commenter) and compares Yahoo to Hillary Clinton, then closes with a quote from a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song. One commenter calls it “lazy, badly-written, undergraduate nonsense,” while another refers to it as “possibly the worst TechCrunch post ever.” As Joel Spolsky has written in the past, Steve Gillmor is not an easy guy to understand even at the best of times.

The other interesting thing is a comment made on Gerrish’s post by none other than Blaine Cook, the former chief technology architect at Twitter, who recently departed the company in what became a controversial exit. In addition to saying that he built the service’s “track” feature in just 12 hours, Cook suggests that allowing other services to “federate” or integrate with Twitter’s features wouldn’t be difficult at all. Could Twitter become a kind of micro-blogging standard?

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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