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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Why Identi.ca needs to look further afield than open source

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

There’s been a lot of buzz in the Twittersphere this morning - well, when Twitter behaves, that is - about a new Twitter-like service, Identi.ca. Launched yesterday, Identi.ca takes the Twitter idea and open sources it, and that alone makes it worth keeping an eye on not just because we can soon expect a world full of Identi.ca installations, but also because it means that business will be able to take the code and run it behind the firewall, finally bringing Twitter-like ambient intimacy to enterprise. (If any businesses are brave enough to experiment, that is!)

In my view, though, being open source isn’t going to be enough of a draw for most people. Even if you assume that the service will turn out to be stable, reliable, richly featured, able to easily import contact lists, and attracts the interest of third party clients like Twitterific and Twhirl, that still won’t be enough to draw people away from Twitter, unless Twitter catastrophically fails. Yes, Twitter’s having significant and annoying problems, but it’s important not to underestimate just how apathetic users can be when it comes to migrating from one social system to another.

What Identi.ca needs to do is to become a cross between Ping.fm, which allows you to posts to multiple social networks, and FriendFeed, which aggregates your output from a variety of tools such as Twitter, Flickr, and Del.icio.us… but with bells on. We need a ‘write once, post anywhere’ system, combined with an ‘aggregate and de-dupe’ system, so that we can all become tool agnostic. Such a system wouldn’t care where you wrote your update, it would distribute it to all the tools you use, and it would aggregate back responses from all your friends, regardless of which system they used at the time.

I think there are two key parts to such a service: De-duping will be essential if such a system is going to be at all usable. If you post the same message to Twitter, FriendFeed, Plurk and Jaiku, then I don’t want to see it showing up four times in my aggregated feed. Friend list management and grouping is going to be the other key issues. The tedious thing about Identi.ca - or any other such service - is recreating my Twitter friend list, or at least some part of the Twitter/Identi.ca friend lists Venn diagram. This is possibly where something like OpenSocial might come in very handy.

I doubt that such a tool would be simple, and relying on other people’s APIs creates multiple points of failure, but the nice thing would be that if I am posting to all ‘microblogging’ platforms and aggregating them all back again, it won’t matter if one tool goes down for a bit. If Twitter dies, but my update has gone to FriendFeed too, and then pushed back out to my friend’s account that they happen to access via Jaiku, who cares that one route in that network was out of action for a bit? On the other hand, if Identi.ca were to becomes that WOPA-AADD system, then you are rather creating a single point of failure… unless, of course, people were to run multiple installations as nodes in a Skype-like network, which would be possible with open source code. Just a thought.

Whilst I doubt that I’ll be deserting Twitter any time soon, if Identi.ca moves in the right direction it could really make a big difference to how we maintain our online presence.

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11 Responses to “Why Identi.ca needs to look further afield than open source”

  1. Alaric Snell-Pym Says:

    Ah, but the neat thing about identi.ca is sitting hidden in the HTML headers… it supports the openmicroblogging standard, meaning that any two installations of the software (or other compatible systems) will interoperate. Indeed, when adding a friend on identi.ca, there’s the option to enter their profile URL from a compatible site, which will then appear on your identi.ca stream even through they’re on another site.

    Which is much more interesting! identi.ca itself isn’t the community, it’s just a single server that can be part of a larger community of interoperating servers.

  2. Suw Says:

    Now that is interesting. I didn’t know that when I posited a multi-nodal system that would be resilient.

    Indeed, I’ve managed to set up a sort of WOPA-AADD system already, using AIM to send message to Ping.fm which updates Identi.ca and Twitter with the same message. FriendFeed can pull in Twitter and, apparently, Identi.ca, and I can view that in Twhirl. The thing that’s missing is the de-duping bit, which is going to be a bit important if such a concatenation of services is to prove actually useful.

  3. Rick Wolff Says:

    I’ll bet you’ve just outlined the 2008-9 wishlist of, of all things, Facebook.

  4. Evan Prodromou Says:

    Hey, Suw. So, I agree with your other commenters — you’ve kind of missed the point. Open Micro Blogging is about user autonomy — users can choose their servers, or set up their own, and still participate in a Web-wide social network. Open Source software isn’t strictly necessary to that scheme, but it does make a much better base for a wide-flung social network than a narrowly-defined consortium (compare OpenSocial).

    We want to make a social network as big and diverse as the Web. The social software we have now works like the walled gardens of the early 90s — AOL, Compuserve, MSN. We’re moving out of that stage with projects like DiSo, OpenID & OAuth, and OpenMicroBlogging.

    I guess what you want _right_now_ is something to post to all the networks you’re on — because they make it hard for you to talk to your different friends on different ones! I’d rather work on laying the base for the next social net, and gently incenting those big services to become part of it (like AOL and MSN became part of the World Wide Web!).

  5. Kevin Anderson Says:

    Evan, thanks for the clarification. One question. You say:

    I’d rather work on laying the base for the next social net, and gently incenting those big services to become part of it (like AOL and MSN became part of the World Wide Web!).

    I think that Suw and I are broadly in agreement with where you’re coming from. My question is how will you gently incent people to use the open services, which would more than gently incent the big services to become part of it?

  6. Ton Zijlstra Says:

    I like the notion of interoperability.
    Suw’s suggestion of updating anywhere, get all answers back to you is important as simply broadcasting to all services like with ping.fm fundamentally breaks any conversational model of interaction. What I don’t like about cc-ing all services is that currently these services contain different circles of contacts. They’re not only services but places as well. So I have a different crowd in Jaiku, then I have in Twitter. And messages aren’t necessarily meant for all of them at the same time. So yes I like interoperability but then it should be possible to decouple channel from circle as well, and shape that differently. The conversational sphere should be leading in design, not the channel, when building a broadcast-to-all-and-aggregate-answers-from-all.

  7. Mag P Says:

    Reovu.com is another interesting application that allows one to startup their own twitter clones website very much like the open source identi.ca

  8. Mag P Says:

    Revou.com is another interesting application that allows one to startup their own twitter clones website very much like the open source identi.ca

  9. Casey Says:

    I would love it to be like you say, write once and it goes everywhere. It takes up so much to just trying to keep everything up to date.

  10. Ivan Says:

    You all even author of this article ARE too much U.S. centric in your opinions and this is your mistake :)

  11. Dmitri Says:

    In my opinion, you’re basically saying that we need one social network that rules them all, which is never going to happen. If you’re going to have the exact same messages and things on all social networks, it’s kind of pointless to have them on all social networks - one social network would make a lot more sense, but that’s never going to happen.

    By the way, it’s possible to build a system where you post in one place and then it shows up anywhere with a little bit of extra code on top of Ping.fm.