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Seeing past Twitter's limits

Friday, October 16, 2009 by Dave Winer.

When thinking about the future, something I've spent a lifetime training myself to do, I try flipping the classic question around. Instead of asking "Do you think X will happen?" try this -- "Can you imagine X not happening?" It doesn't always yield a breakthrough, but it often does. It helps you see past the limits of today.  Permalink to this paragraph

Anyway, I'm giving a 10-minute talk to open Jeff Pulver's Twitter conference in LA on the 27th. The title of my talk, suggested by Carla Casilli, is: "How I learned to stop worrying and love the Fail Whale." It's a ripoff of the sub-title of one of the greatest movies of all time, Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. In his version, they replace the Fail Whale with The Bomb. In the 50s, 60s and 70s people were as obsessied with nuclear weapons as they are today with Twitter (that's only half a joke). Permalink to this paragraph

Anyway, today a tweet is 140 characters with an ever-evolving cadre of metadata marching alongside. And it's about the metadata that I wish to ask the inverted question. But first, I'd ask you to click on the small picture below, and go to Flickr and look at all the metadata that's assembled around a picture of my aunt and uncle taken by my mother sometime in the late 70s or early 80s. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named flickrpage.gif Permalink to this paragraph

What a rich collection of information there is. Yet you could imagine more, yes? If you read the paragraph that introduces the picture you'll see that there's some data that isn't reflected in the Flickr database. It was taken by my mother, and the two people in the picture are related to both of us. One by blood (the man, my uncle Ken) and one because she is married to the other (my aunt Dot). That data is missing probably because Flickr stopped actively evolving before social networking had fully gained a foothold in online culture. Same with the web itself. Wouldn't it be cool if a pointer could imply a familial relationship? I know that's what TBL has been talking about. Maybe we're getting closer to actually having it. Permalink to this paragraph

Anyway, if you go crazy and try to imagine what Twitter might become, you can see that a lot of what it is is in the Flickr metadata without the thing in the middle -- the picture. I've been urging Twitter to support payloads for years now. I can't imagine why they're not doing it. One piece of metadata is all that's needed, minimally, the URL pointing to the picture. Today we have to cram it into the 140 characters. Meanwhile they're advancing, adding geographic data and lists and retweets, all of which add little bits of data to a tweet, but for some reason they won't add the url. Which gets back to the question. Can you imagine that Twitter will never get this feature? No, of course not. It will someday get it. Why not get it over with? Permalink to this paragraph

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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.


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Last update: 10/16/2009; 12:16:18 PM Pacific. "It's even worse than it appears."

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