Home > Archive >  2009 >  May >  19

Taking off the training wheels

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 by Dave Winer.

A picture named twitterbird.gifTechnology loops, it follows a pattern that repeats, and we're in one of those loops right now.  Permalink to this paragraph

Here's how it goes. Permalink to this paragraph

1. Something new comes along.  Permalink to this paragraph

2. We all use one company's product because we need it simplified. I think of this as the "training wheels" phase. Not the full-power version of the technology, but a simplified one, easy to learn on. Permalink to this paragraph

3. Two forces oppose each other as the technology becomes familiar and popular. The company tries to build their lockin as the users crave more power. Even if the company didn't try to foreclose, eventually the users would break out because you can only get so much power from one vendor (strategy taxes and conflicts of interests rule, not maximum power for users). Permalink to this paragraph

4. Break out! Often explosive. Another huge wave of growth around the technology as the open version permeates the market.  Permalink to this paragraph

5. Maturity. Back to step #1. Permalink to this paragraph

That's the loop. So many things have happened like this. A classic example -- email. In the 80s most people who used email did it on closed company-owned systems like MCI, Compuserve, AppleLink, then AOL and Microsoft's corporate servers. Then along with the rise of the web, email moved to the Internet, and mail servers became commodities. Everyone had one. Companies started out not wanting to operate their own servers, then because they weren't scared of running them, they broke out. Permalink to this paragraph

So then the question comes up, as we've been talking about now for years, what does the break-out from Twitter look like? We've tried a lot of theories, but before there's a breakout, everyone has to understand the technology, and to understand it, it seems you must know what it is. Permalink to this paragraph

So... What is Twitter? I didn't get any answers when I asked on Sunday. I'm watching all the public twits from people who work at Twitter to see if they have any ideas. If they do, they're not evident in the public twitstream. Permalink to this paragraph

I'm thinking now that Twitter is this -- A very low ramp onto blogging, which itself was a low ramp onto publishing. I told a friend today I didn't used to think it could get any lower than blogging, but I was wrong! Twitter is lower. I think for a lot of people the breakthrough in Twitter is that it makes blogging possible for them, both the reading and writing.  Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named trainingWheels.jpgFor a guy like me, who mastered blogging long ago, Twitter is compelling because of the people. All these new people blogging, I want to read what they write, maybe they'll come up with something! But more and more, sorry to say, I don't think they are coming up with much. I think 140 characters is really very limiting for most people. Esp when you layer all the RT's and @screennames and #hashtags and tinyurls in and on it. It's getting really crowded there in 140-character-land. Permalink to this paragraph

Plus if you believe the loop model, the best of the Twitter users, the ones who are doing the most interesting stuff with it, they're going to want more, soon. And they're going to also want their freedom. All of which says the investors in products like Tumblr are really smart, except they ought to offer more freedom than Twitter does and they don't appear to. It also suggests that Facebook, Movable Type and WordPress would be well-served to produce low-end products, ones that did just a little more than Twitter. The key here is to be, in every way, a Twitter clone, but relax some of the limits. I'd bet that the Twitter founders are wrong about 140 characters. It may have been magic at one time, but that's the past. It would be easy to conceive of a UX that was every bit as simple as Twitter's but didn't have that limit. Permalink to this paragraph

Earlier today I twitted: "I like the open web so much I'm willing to accept its limits." Permalink to this paragraph

Then a few hours later Larry Page hinted at the explosive breakout I'm looking for. If I can write on the web, on my own server, and still have it instantly accessible to people who follow me, whether they use twitter or splitter or donder or vixen, then I've got: Permalink to this paragraph

1. My choice of tools. Permalink to this paragraph

2. My choice of servers. Permalink to this paragraph

3. When Twitter goes down I stay up. Permalink to this paragraph

4. They can be neutral or not and no one cares. Permalink to this paragraph

5. I'm no longer locked in. Permalink to this paragraph

Just one little protocol to implement it. I ping them when I update. They read the document I say changed. If it did, re-index. If it didn't, ignore the ping. That's all. Everything about Twitter reduced to a new search engine from Google, something they're good at, and a small enhancement to my CMS (and to be clear, it's old tech, we've been doing this in the blogging world since 1999). Permalink to this paragraph

Oh happy day! Permalink to this paragraph

"cheesecake"  Permalink to this paragraph

   Recent stories

A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, 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.


Dave Winer Mailto icon

© Copyright 1994-2009 Dave Winer Mailto icon.

Last update: 5/19/2009; 8:44:51 PM Pacific. "It's even worse than it appears."

Click here to view blogs commenting on  RSS 2.0 feed.