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What will become of Twitter?
By Dave Winer on Monday, January 03, 2011 at 10:15 AM.

A picture named peace.jpgThe current crop of tech writers in Silicon Valley are making the mistake tech writers always make. They don't understand how the industry loops, so they misread the signs. It's happening as they try to understand the connection between RSS and Twitter. permalink

There is a very strong connection between the two. Twitter is a wonderful solution to many of the problems we had with RSS, most importantly, how to go from the impulse to subscribe to having actually subscribed.  permalink

In Twitter it's one click. In RSS, it's an unpredictable number of complex clicks. That in a nutshell is why Twitter blossomed. I don't think the 140-character limit is as important as they do, but time will tell. permalink

It's not as if we didn't know that this was a problem with RSS, we did. In 2002, we even solved it, in Radio 8 with the coffee mug icon. But the solution wasn't general enough to work for all apps, and there was no will to cooperate among competitors, so the market developed chaotically, which is why Twitter filled the gap so nicely. permalink

Can the problem still be solved, and more importantly, is there a reason to solve it? permalink

Yes to both -- it can be solved, and there is an inexorable reason to solve it. In other words, if technology goes forward, and it seems it generally does (we do take backward steps, sometimes big ones, but over time the direction is forward) Twitter will be unbundled. The impetus to do it could come at any time. If they have to shut down some feed related to WikiLeaks, the immediate reaction among a lot of politically-oriented Twitter users will be to seek something open to replace it. And eventually there will be features people want enough to put up with the transition to an open version of what Twitter does. Features that Twitter can't or won't provide because it will be too deeply dug into its business model at the time. permalink

This never doesn't happen. And it also never doesn't happen that the tech leader, approaching the peak of his or her power, fails to see it coming. It's almost tragic how blinded they are by their own success. Even Bill Gates, who swore he would never relax in his hard-coreness, let his guard down for a few critical years in the 90s, and the company went down the wrong path. IBM did it, Apple did, they all do it. Twitter is not an exception.  permalink

What rises to replace it will either be an open system built around RSS, or something indistinguishable from RSS. I would stake my reputation as a technologist on this one. I've been through so many of these loops, I never hedge my bets, and the bet has never been wrong. It always takes longer than you think it should, but eventually the open formats and protocols replace the systems built on corporate training wheels.  permalink

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