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Twitter begins to communicate with their users

Thursday, May 22, 2008 by Dave Winer.

A picture named elephant.gifToday Twitter began to communicate with their users, which they are to be commended and congratulated for. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. There's a long road ahead, and everyone's going to learn a lot as we travel down it, and no doubt it's awkard at first. Now we can look back at the first step and think how much we accomplished, and look forward to the second. Permalink to this paragraph

There were two posts, one from Jack Dorsey, the CEO and another from Alex Payne, an engineer at "Twitter HQ." Payne, by pointing to a piece that dismisses decentralization and says we don't understand Twitter, thereby shows (sorry to say) that he doesn't understand it. It's like the elephant being described by a million blind men. Each of us sees something different and thinks, incorrectly, that we have the whole picture. In fact, none of us do. Permalink to this paragraph

It's easy to prove that Twitter is different for everyone. I'll start with myself. I have 9644 followers on my main account, and I follow 663 people and have updated 7870 times. Permalink to this paragraph

I can't keep up all the people I follow. Back when I only followed 100 people, Twitter made it possible for me to learn about the people I followed. It was remarkable. Today I never make it through all 10 pages of history, the rope slips through my hands. This wonderful feature of Twitter, that I reveled in last year this time, is now lost to me. (And some people follow over 20,000. Can you imagine they have any idea what all those people are doing?) Permalink to this paragraph

So even with just that one account I already am three or four of the blind men who think they grok Twitter, and each of them sees something different. I could write a 5000 word article for each of them, the experiences would be very different. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named magoo.gifDennis Metzcher lives in New Jersey and describes himself as an "iPhone-toting super-hero." He's updated 216 times, has 36 followers and follows 48. His posts are thoughtful, and he seems to communicate with lots of A-twisters but also quite a few people with a relatively small number of followers. When he goes to Twitter it probably doesn't look like a firehose. I'm sure he sees it very differently from me.  Permalink to this paragraph

Alex Payne -- the Twitter engineer -- follows 319 people, has 3181 followers and has updated 3430 times.  Permalink to this paragraph

Cliff Gerrish is a website builder in SF, follows 350 people, is followed by 309 people and has updated 1650 times. Permalink to this paragraph

I can't explain how each of these people sees Twitter, but I'm absolutely sure we all see it differently. Permalink to this paragraph

To me, Twitter is a publishing medium. I wish it weren't so, I wish I had the bandwidth to really follow 663 people. I have no idea how to thin out the ranks of the people I'm following, and I don't plan to. But to the extent that the company is having trouble scaling it for me, I think they should stop worrying about it. Further, and this is important, most of the things I post are not especially time-sensitive. If it took 1/2 hour to deliver each one to each of my 9644 followers it wouldn't be the end of the world. However, a week ago I had a news scoop, the first report of an earthquake in Falls Church, VA. That was an example of a high priority message. Permalink to this paragraph

I have a requirement that many other Twitter users might not have -- I have to stay on the air when Twitter goes down, and this, if you think about it, makes decentralization not an option but an absolute necessity, no matter what the architecture guys may think. I must have a Plan B, because I intend to build a business that depends on this service, or something like it. I want to start that business in the next few weeks (actually I started it quite some time ago, but it's about to evolve).  Permalink to this paragraph

It won't do any good for any of us blind men to dismiss anyone else's point of view. That's what I would like to get through to the people who run Twitter, who work there, their investors. To me, nothing is so frustrating as people who think they understand better than others when they don't. Please, don't fall into that trap. Remember we're all blind men, you too -- keep in touch with your humility. Permalink to this paragraph

I look forward to a long, interesting conversation about this stuff! ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

PS: A discussion has started on FriendFeed under a post by Fred Wilson. Permalink to this paragraph


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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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