3 months ago I speculated on what would happen to Twitter if it didn’t open up. I suggested a possible model for Twitter, one that is similar to the WordPress model, where you have the choice of using the WordPress.com hosted version, using another WordPress host or hosting it on your own.
WordPress is interoperable. It plays nice with the web. It plays nice with other blogging systems using RSS and Pingbacks and Trackbacks and Linkrolls.
If WordPress.com crashes, it doesn’t stop the multitudes of WordPress blogs out there hosted on numerous hosts from humming along just fine. Even if all WordPress blogs in the world would run into the weirdest bug on 2022, February 2nd, all theÂ Moveable Type hosts will still continue to operate.
The same is true for email, DNS, SMS, and any other ubiquitous communication platform we truly rely on. (Except Facebook of course. But then, Facebook operates in a different universe altogether).
Twitter could have been the WordPress of the microblogging world, opening it up and establishing as a platform we can rely on, and at the same time capturing a significant part of the market.
But Twitter didn’t.
And they did. Can you hear the Buzz?
Guess what. It’s open, and it’s distributed, and it’s a platform on which we could potentially exercise microblogging knowing that it’s supported by multiple vendors and having multiple instances through which traffic can be routed and re-routed if one of them fails.
Google Buzz plays nice with standards. It plays nice with RSS and Atom and MediaRSS and Activity Streams. It plays nice with PubSubHubbub and AtomPub and OAuth. But what I find most interesting is that it (will) play nice with WebFinger and Salmon.
WebFinger is an open protocol that allows for the introspection of third party addresses for their public endpoints, allowing networks to discover external users’ public preferences for message delivery, identity, and contact information.
Salmon is an open protocol that defines a standardized mechanism for comments and activities on distributed services to be shared upstream with the activity source.
Together, these two standards could very well be the underpinnings that would enable multiple Buzz instances running on different hosts (centrally hosted or self hosted) and Buzz-compatible systems to interact and connect, allowing users from one service transparently interact with users from another service – to follow, @reply and publish their microblogging content.
So there we haveÂ it. The building blocks for a distributed microblogging platform that could make reliable, fail-whale-less trustable microblogging a reality.
Is Buzz a good product? Your taste may differ, but at this point I kind of hate it. Buzz seems like an almost feature-by-feature copy of FriendFeed (acquired by Facebook on August 2009), except for the features that FriendFeed implemented to reduce clutter and noise. Plus, just like in FriendFeed, the lack of the often-hated 140 characters limit on the published text results in a stream that is far less readable and digestible than then Twitter stream. Personally, I still prefer (and love) Twitter.
But that doesn’t really matter. Google will improve Buzz. They have more than enough feedback from the many users who had Buzz forced on them. If not Google, someone else will build a more digestible Buzz experience. What really mattes is that the building blocks are there allowing such service to flourish and create a much healthier ecosystem around microblogging.
I think the implications are even wider though. Buzz could change the way we interact with content.
Take comments for example. Nearly every content site has comments. One has to wonder though what is the value of a comment to the content publisher. A person reads an article, gets furious about one point or another, and types in a comment. And that’s it. That’s mostly a dead end as far as the publisher is concerned.
Now imagine a world where comments on articles and blogs are inherently tied into the microblogging world. Where every comment I publish appears instantly on my Buzz stream, with a link back to the article. Responses to my comments would be syndicated back into the original article comments. Instead of a dead-end, comments would become a truly powerful personal content distribution platform and content creation platform for publishers.
BackType, Disqus and JS-Kit Echo are all brave attempts to retrofit this model on top of the existing systems and connects the two worlds today. But without open standards underlying these systems, it is very, very hard to have a consistent thorough implementation and a good user experience.
All this and a lot more could have been Twitter’s to grab. But Twitter failed to learn what so many have learned over and over again in the young history of the net – that the Internet abhors a funnel.
What do you think? Is the game over? Can Twitter still recap? I hope they do. Twitter has our love, and the last thing we need is Google (or worse, Facebook) capturing yet another domain on their road to Total Net Domination.