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There must be some way out of here

Thursday, April 02, 2009 by Dave Winer.

A picture named hera.jpgAccording to the authors of Battlestar Galactica, Bob Dylan was tuning into a cosmic song that drives the universe when he wrote All Along The Watchtower. There are so many great scenes in the BSG series that revolve around the song. In the last episode Starbuck has seconds to jump Galactica away from the exploding Cylon death star, she's fumbling at the controls and says "There must be some kind of way out of here" and then proceeds to transport us to a magic place (no spoilers). In the background The Song is playing. Permalink to this paragraph

I'm getting that feeling about Twitter.  Permalink to this paragraph

BookOfJames: "Maybe it's good for Twitter to burn bright and fast. Once the fad is over, things may settle down for the better. Who knows?" Permalink to this paragraph

Maybe so. Permalink to this paragraph

Maybe Twitter is just a crude child's drawing of the promised land of online communication.  Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named slippers.jpgAnother step on the Yellow-brick Road? If so, I think we have, for sure, taken a detour into the land of the poppy flowers or the Wicked Witch of the West. For me, the real eye-opener was this tweet from TheEllenShow, promising a treat to all her munchkins if they drove her follower number over 500K. Think about it -- that's asking for people to spam on her behalf. I follow a lot of people (more than Ellen, for example) and that meant I got a lot of people retweeting her pitch. And while it's true I can choose not to follow Ellen, there's no way to not-follow all the spam. And with a half-million followers, that's a lot of spam.  Permalink to this paragraph

All this predicts what we have to expect when Oprah joins the mess. And when the Congressional elections are fought in Twitterspace. All of a sudden the lovely patch of green, the bright optimistic future we had for it has turned into the key phrase in The Watchtower. Permalink to this paragraph

"There must be some way out of here..." Permalink to this paragraph

Said the joker to the thief. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

Increasingly, I don't think it's Laconica. I think they have the wrong idea about who their potential users are and what they want, and what to expect from them. Their plan came out a few days ago, and if I want to operate a twitter-like service, I'm stuck with limited customization options and I have to pay to bring customers to them. I don't think this works. Permalink to this paragraph

No one has figured out how in this space to enable an honest non-spammer type such as myself to build a nice little business off this technology. Even worse, no one has figured out how to sell a service to a mainstream publication that wants to establish a news network without all the crap that's showing up on twitter.com. Permalink to this paragraph

I mentioned this briefly in a post a few of days ago. Let me elaborate. Permalink to this paragraph

I'm pretty sure the FriendFeed guys have missed the mark, and also pretty sure they know it.  Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named graph.gif Permalink to this paragraph

Here's how I'd look at it if I were on their team. Permalink to this paragraph

1. Our key strength: We know how to scale systems. (Based on experience at Google with Maps and Mail.) Permalink to this paragraph

2. Our big opportunity: People want to start their own twitters. (This is my assumption. Unproven. Risky. Who? A-list bloggers, struggling news organizations, visionary networks of bloggers wanting to form new kinds of groups. AOL. Yahoo. MSN.) Permalink to this paragraph

3. Another strength: We know how to design APIs. (They do, the FF API is very nice. Could be better, and from what I've seen they know how to make it better.) Permalink to this paragraph

So, in case it isn't obvious by now, I'd counsel them to get into the platform business. Enable guys who have mastered AppEngine and EC2 to build front-ends for their back-end, provide a toolkit for building your own twitter and then let a thousand flowers bloom. I'd also raise more money so I could acquire the winners, suck their features into the platform, and then do it again. I think this is the winning strategy. If Twitter had FF's strengths (don't think they do) I'd counsel them to do the same. And for gods' sakes, stay in the background, don't compete with your users. More on this in the next paragraph. Permalink to this paragraph

One of the reasons Twitter is so demoralizing (at least for this Twitter user, ymmv) is something Jean-Louis Gassee once taught me by asking a question. Permalink to this paragraph

"David, are you a pimp or are you a whore?" Permalink to this paragraph

It was a good question. And one the Twitter owners would do well to answer. Permalink to this paragraph

The better business for them is to be pimps not whores. Fade into the background. Let Twitter become infrastructure, a platform for impressarios. Biz and Ev just can't compete with the dazzling personalities they've attracted. Yet geez Luigi, Biz is going on Colbert tonight! That's a bad idea. It's going to make Ellen and Oprah jealous, Leno and Letterman, Barbara, George Will, etc. Wait until there's competiton, and networks own twitters. The stars (whores) are going to get paid big bucks, like Howard Stern, to draw in users. And they're not going to want to compete with you on a personal level. And Ev and Biz just aren't that interesting as celebrities. But as pimps, maybe... Permalink to this paragraph

BTW, to answer JLG's question, 25 years later -- I'm a whore and I know it. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

Not a big-time one. Just an average one. Nothing special. Permalink to this paragraph

Of course that's going to get quoted. 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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