App.net and Cargo Culting

September 12th, 2012

I backed App.net. The current iteration isn’t really compelling enough for me to use it, but I recently was deeply frustrated by the lack of edit on Twitter flipped over to App.net hoping that maybe it had added this most humanizing of features, but I was disappointed.

The Twitter that exists today is only one of the various Twitters that were posited over the years, it would be a shame if App.net cargo cults this Twitter rather exploring the space of Twitters.

Features from a handful of alternate Twitters:

  • the ability to edit a tweet. There are several patterns in community software for handling the “I responded and then you changed what you said” pattern. One of then is versioning. The other is a short window of edits. It’s a question of balancing how much you prefer the conversational integrity vs the benefits of a little hypocrisy to a person’s self expression.

  • archives. is this the record of your life and of culture, or a system for transmitting unrelenting now-ness? Dated archives are key toward setting the expectation that these items you share won’t disappear behind an event horizon of fuzzy human memory, available only in the vast archives of folks trying to sell you things. also, lose the relative dates after a little time has past, say like 2 days. Twitter uses relative dates because it was the preferred method for displaying dates in the Rails community, and it seemed pretty slick in 2006. (for point of reference in 2006 you were still using Myspace)

  • personal context/useful search. is it a platform for brands/celebrities/robots/blowhards to broadcast or is it a place to connect with a more intimate group? Twitter’s brilliance is in mixing these, but their bread is very much buttered by the brands. This is surfaced both in their disinterest in giving you ways to organize your view (lists) and also in not providing search context (within folks I follow, my tweets, my favorites, etc). of course Twitter did roll out search from people you follow. I love it. So thank you whomever got that out.

  • privacy. I was an early thorn in Twitter’s side about supporting the privacy settings. But honestly it was just always too much work to respond manually to follow requests or to maintain two separate accounts. Per status privacy and per status geo-privacy would go a long way towards changing the nature of what people share on Twitter away from re-publishing Mashable headlines.

  • annotations. the ghost feature that lived it’s too brief days in the Sun. Twitter works alright as a “magic word distribution system” (to steal Aaron’s description), but briefly there was the promise of it working exceptionally well. That was annotations. Structured data that could flow along side a tweet indicating that this was me discussing what I was listening to, what I was eating, two robots discussing the weather, part of a larger narrative arc, etc. Metadata that could be displayed or ignored by clients as needed, consumed by listeners as they desired. It makes status casting into something with the potential to surprise you with it’s uses rather then to re-tread. To the extent that Twitter extracts entities like URLs, identities and hashtags already you get a sense of how powerful this could be. It both upends and plays well with the OpenGraph inspired resurgence of microformat based structure data sharing.

  • federation. just going to leave this one here.

  • heterogeneous sources of statuses. a tweet is in someways the irreducible atom of web content. if in the era of monied interests (everyone since Postel) we can get interop on anything ever, it should be on tweets.

Those we a few I’d had my heart set on a various teams over the last 6 years. I’m sure there were others. Re-building Twitter without exploring any of the explored alternatives seems like a waste.

Tagged: Uncategorized

3 Responses to “App.net and Cargo Culting”

  1. karl says:

    let me add a few.

    • Erasing Management: “Remove automatically everything older than 100 tweets”, “Remove automatically everything older than 1 week”, etc. configurable aka forgetful interface.

    • Export: Easy automatic archiving system (export feature)

    • Pay or Ads: Give the choice to user to pay for the service and not be tracked and see ads.

    • Intimate history: When I meet a person in the physical life, this person has access to the now and might have access to a selected future (when we meet again). What I want when I accept someone on my social network is that this person can’t read the past timeline. Just the forward timeline from the date she/he joined to now.

    • Open Protocol: I’m not sure I want yet another domain for a social network and so I do not want federation. But I want to be able to use the microblogs things exactly like I was doing for usenet and still do for irc, mail and messengers.

    • One click install: Federation failed each time because it is complicated to install. Dependent on two many things. One click install is key to success.

    • Shared blacklist: Controlling spams can be helped by the like of your community. this is the Social Contract of the social network. This is spam and I trust this person flagging things as spams.

    • private geo: I want to be able to record my geolocation but not to share it.

    • multiple profiles on one account yes. But still give the possibility of multiple accounts.

    • encryption: even for the hosting service.

  2. Great way to say it. The way you say “exploring the space of Twitters” is the main takeaway here.

  3. ConFigures says:

    Re comment 1 from karl: “What I want when I accept someone on my social network is that this person can’t read the past timeline. Just the forward timeline from the date she/he joined to now.”

    Diaspora has this.