Don’t call me DOM

22 January 2009

Microblogging: what for?

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So I started microblogging a few days ago, most probably as a result of my co-chairing of the Workshop on the Future of Social Networking – although I can’t really say there was a conscious connection between the two events.

Twitter and friends have been around for quite some time now, and microblogging hadn’t really appealed to me, despite a few experiments here and there; I had started to follow some colleagues and friends tweets by subscribing to the resulting RSS feeds, but hadn’t really found a good motivation to use it to generate content.

I think I’m now getting into it, although I can’t say that I have a lot of experience on it yet :)

So what is nice about joining one of the microblogging platforms out there?

  • the expectations on the originalty and novelty of the posted content are much lower than on blogs – which themselves are often thought as requiring less polishing than a formal article; this means probably an overall lower signal/noise ratio, but this also means that information can flow much more freely; as such, it seems to be a great platform for serependity;
  • I had completely (and probably ironically) undervalued the social nature of the microblogging platforms – the incentive in keeping your micropost interesting, fun, or original is provided by the number of people that follow you; while of course blogs are also followed and can be measured by that metrics, the fact that the microblogging platforms include the number of followers right next to your posts list, publishes your avatar on next to the posts list of people following you, and notify you of new followers, makes it a strong feedback channel. Some blogging platforms do the same (e.g. LiveJournal), but given that Twitter more or less centralizes today all the microblog users, the chances that people you care about actually are on Twitter are much higher;
  • both blogging and microblogging are great reflexive tools, but due to reduced cost of posting something on a microblog, they give a possibly more fine-grained view of a day or week;
  • the self-imposed 140 characters limit to the length of texts that can be posted are also a fertile group for creativity in expression; as put by Frank Lloyd Wright, Man built most nobly when limitations were at their greatest;
  • the interaction between microblogs and other systems (through REST APIs, XMPP) also seem quite promising, although I haven’t had yet great success to report on that front.

There are also obviously some frustrating aspects – the biggest one and probably their greatest weakness is the fact that Twitter is such a giant at the center of that world; even though I use Identi.ca as my primary account, it was quickly obvious that I also needed an account on Twitter if I really wanted to interact with most people I know. Fortunately, Identi.ca allows to propagate my posts from one to the other, but I can’t follow my twitter’s subscriptions from there, nor keep track of who’s following. I think the openmicroblogging effort is precisely trying to fix that problem – may they succeed in it! (note how I try to avoid using “twitter” as a verb or noun to designate the generate phenomenon)

It is also annoying that so much of the intercommunication relies on the account name – this merges the social identity and the communication identity (a bit as if I were to call you by your phone number rather than by your name), and this creates yet another case of shortage of names. It is somewhat practical since you can address someone with a limited number of characters (compared to a full name, an email address, a URI), but seems architecturally wrong.

Also, microblogging platforms break threaded discussions; when reacting to someone’s micropost, you only get a link to that person’s microblog, not to the particular item you were reacting to; very, very frustrating when browsing through archives… I think a low-cost fix to that problem would be to have instead or in addition a link to a dated archive of that person, based on the time at which the “@” message was sent.

Finally, as many other social networking activities, microblogging tends to be extremely addictive, at least for the first few days or weeks; do I really need another net-addiction?

3 Responses to “Microblogging: what for?”

  1. therealmaxf Says:

    I would argue that the lack of threaded discussions is a good thing, as it prevents microblogs from becoming forums. Going further, microblogging can be claimed to be only for your status updates: twitter puts “What are you doing?” at the top of its text input, and some people insist on starting their tweet with gerunds, e.g “Going down the pub”, or “feeling hungry”. A bit drastic, perhaps, and twitter must have thought so when they eventually put links on “@name”. The right choice, in my opinion.

  2. Dom Says:

    Hmm… Did I miss it before or has Identi.ca just added the “in-reply-to” link? Just what I was asking for!

  3. Dom Says:

    And Twitter has that too; I guess I’m just blind or idiot :)

Picture of Dominique Hazael-MassieuxDominique Hazaël-Massieux (dom@w3.org) is part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Staff; his interests cover a number of Web technologies, as well as the usage of open source software in a distributed work environment.