November 01, 2008

Twitter Planning to Implement OpenMicroblogging Standard

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Twitter/FriendFeed)

For those that follow me here or on my personal blog, you know I'm a big fan of open standards for microblogging.  I even left Twitter for and FriendFeed for a short time partly because of this.  The concept of "OpenMicroblogging" is simple - if your microblogging service supports it, I can then subscribe to any user on any other microblogging service that supports it, and then follow those users right on the microblogging service I'm most familiar with.  It is a protocol, similar to TCP/IP, the same protocol websites use to communicate with your browser over the internet.

Currently, Microblogging is a very closed model.  It can be likened to the days of AOL and Compuserve, where we have multiple networks, like Twitter, and Plurk, and Yammer, and many other "Twitter-clones" which all essentially do the same thing.  Each network is closed, can't talk to the other networks, and they're doing so in hopes that it will make it hard for users to switch networks.  (And I even argue you see this to some extent in the major networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Myspace)

We all know what happened to AOL and Compuserve.  Some guys invented this thing called the web, based on open standards such as TCP/IP, allowing multiple nodes on the network to all talk to each other.  So long as your software spoke this open standard, you could be a part of the network, and the great thing about it is the standard was really owned by no one - it was a community agreement, something everyone was working together to live by, and because of this, soon the "World Wide Web" outgrew AOL and Compuserve in numbers to the point that AOL and Compuserve were forced to open up their networks to allow their users to access the Web.  While no individual "website" was as big as AOL or Compuserve, the World Wide Web as a whole grew to become much, much bigger than even the two combined.

Enter Twitter

Twitter is at risk of the same fate AOL and Compuserve met.  As a closed network, they may be big, but as smaller open networks come about that can all communicate with each other, there is a chance that those networks as a whole could outgrow Twitter itself.

It appears Twitter may just be learning from AOL's mistakes however.  In a bug report posted last July in the Twitter Development Bug tracking system there is an issue titled "OpenMicroblogging Support".  The user, "4braham", posted it, suggesting "Support for the OpenMicroBlogging specification would allow for Twitter
users to follow users of other microblogging services."  Alex Payne, API Lead for Twitter, responded, saying, "Sure, someday, after it sees some adoption."  Then, in August, he added, "Changing this to 'Accepted' just so it doesn't jump out at me when I'm scanning for new issues. It's going to be
some time before work on this begins, though."  So it would appear that Twitter very much has plans and interest to join the OpenMicroblogging effort.  You can login and click the "star" for the issue here to vote for it if you think this is something important for them to integrate.

Twitter implementing the OpenMicroblogging protocol would be a wise choice, and put them at a leadership position in this space, currently dominated by the likes of, OpenMicroblogger, and Leo Laporte's Twit Army.  Not just that, but it would immediately empower them as the largest site of what has the potential to be a much larger network of users of interconnected sites in the future.  With their lead API developer writing a book, and seemingly being short staffed as they write a new version of the API while at the same time trying to address issues with the existing API, I agree with Alex - it may be awhile before we see this.  Let's hope they get things in order and we can see this some time soon.

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.