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Scripting News, the weblog started in 1997 that bootstrapped the blogging revolution.

Fractional Horsepower Twitters? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named accordion.gifFractional Horsepower is a very powerful idea. It says that sometimes you can make a new product by taking an old one and scaling it down.

The originator of the concept, in my experience (he may have borrowed it from someone else) is Steve Jobs, who described the Apple II as a fractional horsepower computer. In those days computers were big, Jobs believed and many of us agreed that a lot could be gained from taking the big idea and making it small.

If you look at the history of computers and publishing (the two things I care most about, professionally) you can see that the trend is going, inexorably, that way. Things keep getting smaller, and every time they do, huge power is unleashed. Maybe it's like nuclear fission, there's this huge power holding the nucleus of an atom together, making all those protons stick together, then it's unleashed, boom (another Jobsism) a big explosion.

We like netbooks because they're smaller than laptops. We like iPods because they do what stereos do but fit in a pocket.

I wrote, many times about Fractional Horsepower HTTP Servers, and today they're a reality. Every device that can be configured through a browser has a little HTTP server in it. Each of them has a single user, they sit idling most of the time waiting for you to do something. My printer has one, my receiver has one. Look around, they're everywhere.

The other day I wrote a piece called A billion Twitters. In this environment a lot of people just skim, and I think they didn't read it because it seemed to be saying that there would be billions of Twitter users. I don't doubt this, but that's not what the piece was saying.

I am pretty sure the same logic that led us to personal computers will lead us, inevitably, to personal Twitters. Yes, there are huge advantages to scaling up, not down -- and that was true in the earlier shifts too. We loved our Apple IIs, but banks and airlines needed massive computer resources to do book-keeping and reservations. And we love our search engines, and web apps, all of which are made possible by scaling up.

As a thought exercise, I tried to imagine places I would put a Twitter if I had the power to do so. I would certainly put one here on my website, to enable Twitter-like micro-publishing among members of the community, in a sense to define what it means to be a member of this community. I don't imagine either the blog or the comments going away, in fact I am sure they would be enhanced by our own Twitter. We could try to organize a community on the main Twitter, but the comments that are relevant to this community would scroll off far too fast.

I suggested to Craig Newmark that he consider adding Twitter-like functionality to Craig's List. He asked what that would mean. I said I didn't know. It was part of the thought exercise. I posed the question on Twitter this morning and got back a huge number of comments. I wonder if the same will happen here? We'll see. ;->

It's hard to imagine that Twitter is so unlike everything that came before that it won't go both ways as every other publishing technology has -- both up and down. I'd like to try putting a Twitter on my netbook and see what happens. Probably nothing, but you never know! That's how creativity works, play what-if and relax all the constraints and challenge your mind to make sense of it. Most things never do make sense, but every so often there's a winner. RSS was such a thing, as were blogs and podcasts. What if there were an XML rendering of this blog? What if everyone had their own website? What if radio didn't require air waves? What if everyone could have their own Twitter?


Last update: Tuesday, March 03, 2009 at 3:41 PM Pacific.

A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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