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Twitter, Jaiku, and the future of microblogging

Dave Winer’s post on the possibility of having a Twitter Pro raises some interesting issues about the future direction of what Dave and others have called “microblogging” – that genre of services, including Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce and others that enable sending and receiving short, instant posts from a variety of mobile platforms.

First, it’s pretty clear from Dave’s post that he really sees Twitter as another platform for blogging, rather than anything new or unique. Dave doesn’t understand why anyone would choose to receive via SMS, suggesting to Fred Wilson that he get an iPhone rather than use SMS.

This of course misses the point: Twitter, Jaiku and the like are partially interrupt-driven, rather than being pull media like a web site. This aspect of these services is about getting updates from your friends instantly, without having to be constantly checking, checking, and re-checking a site. If I wanted to have to check what my friends were doing, then I’d look to their blogs.

This is a point which Marshall Kirkpatrick makes well in his post about how essential Twitter has become to him. Twitter offers instant updates, which is why it’s best used with tools which live outside the web page, like Twitterific or Twitbin.

The second issue is, as I’ve mentioned before, with Twitter and its like brevity is part of the appeal. I want my friends to be limited to 140 characters. I don’t want analysis: I want to know what they’re doing, little tid-bits of information they’ve found and think are cool (although there’s better mechanisms for links). These services are about notification, discussion and presence – not providing yet another method for posting random long opinions and essays.

Of course, Dave is simply seeing Twitter through the prism of his own interests, which he accurately sums up when he says “I really only care about the web, and if your cell phone can’t do the web, well, get another cell phone.” That’s why he wants payloads in Twitter, so that he can replicate the functionality of RSS in the product.

But surely we already have a perfectly good system for payloads – and it’s called RSS. Dave, I believe, had something to do with making it in the first place, so I’m surprised that he’s forgotten it. There are many methods of getting RSS payloads on mobile phones, although notably not on the iPhone thanks to its lack of third-party application support.

What’s more, SMS, IM and email all allow you to include links to payloads – giving you as a mobile user the choice of whether or not you want to download something. Twitter even translates these usefully into short URLs.

My suspicion is that the reason that Dave wants this kind of feature is also bound up in a view of Twitter et al which is more about posting than listening. That posting is more important than listening is obvious from his statement that “if I had to check a box saying that my twits wouldn’t be available on SMS at all, I’d happily check it.” For Dave, it’s more important that the control should be at the content maker’s end, rather than the receiver’s.

Compare this with the approach of Jaiku, which allows you to aggregate together virtually anything with an RSS feed into you personal thread – but which also allows people subscribed to you to opt out of each individual feed.

So where do Twitter, Jaiku and the rest go next? I think that it would be a massive mistake to attempt to add more and more features. This isn’t a feature race. Instead, its about broadening the tools to as many platforms as possible, so that no matter where you are and what you’re doing, you can define the way you receive information and the degree to which it is allowed to interrupt what you’re doing.

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