Friday 17 September 2010

#newtwitter, Diaspora and the future of the Social Web

On Tuesday, Twitter unveiled their new interface for which now embeds content from Flickr, Twitpic, YouTube and others. I think it's an attempt to make Twitter more compelling for casual users and is something we have done in FriendBinder for a while now. It also has the effect of destroying some the advantages that 3rd party clients have had, especially the Twitter-only clients. This is ironic, since I believe that Twitter wants Twitter-only clients to continue to exist. Twitter has also started to take control of it's own platform by producing iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry clients itself. Twitter has also taken sharing buttons in house. In fact the main differentiation you get from Twitter is to support multiple networks as it's likely Twitter won't do that themselves in their clients.

Facebook has been relatively closed until the last year, choosing instead to have it's platform mostly built inside It wasn't until last year that Facebook really became open enough for true 3rd party clients and we were so excited we had it working the next day. Facebook, however, has it's own iPhone client and most users still use, so in general prefers to control that direction just like Twitter is starting to.

What's clear about these moves, is that Facebook and even Twitter are trying to keep their garden's pretty walled for now. If Twitter or Facebook make an official version of an application, then the theory is that no one else will be able to get enough market share to compete and make a viable business. Jason Calacanis for example calls out Facebook based businesses because Facebook will absorb the features into it's own system. He also has made numerous comments stating, that you shouldn't build a startup based on a single ecosystem, because it's very risky and he is not alone in this point of view.

Diaspora released it's initial code yesterday and they say they want to be a more privacy aware Facebook. The problem Diaspora has is, how to break into Twitter's and Facebook ecosystems? It's not 2006 anymore, people have picked their primary social networks (for now) and are starting to settle on the tools they use with them and there are vast number for both. Many people for example use only and the Facebook iphone client to access Facebook. Even with Twitter some of the most popular clients: Echofon, Twitterific and Twitter's own apps. are Twitter-only.

Diaspora needs to do two things in order to get real traction:
- Get into multiple network clients like TweetDeck, Seesmic, Gwibber, FriendBinder and others.
- Provide something it's competitors don't and preferably won't

So what's next? there are already many social networks and multi-network clients can only realistically support so many if they all have different APIs, and those will be the biggest ones typically. Activity Streams, is one solution to this. Activity Streams is an extension of the Atom standard to provide social context to feeds and there are many related standards to provide the glue for this to work, OAuth and PubSubHubbub for example. If social networks and clients all supported Activity Streams it would be easier for people to get access to brand new social networks in the clients they use.

I, like Alex Payne, think we need to move to a model like email with multiple providers and clients. Currently Twitter and Facebook are like Gmail and Yahoo mail in this model and clients like Tweetdeck and Friendbinder are equivalent to Thunderbird/Apple Mail and other IMAP clients. This already has happened in the past with instant messaging, there are several protocols, but clients like Pidgin, iChat and Trillian support the main sites and the standard, XMPP.

I don't think we are far from an open model, but to get there we need everyone who's not Twitter and Facebook to support Activity Streams and users to support multiple network clients.
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