In a post on its developer blog a couple days ago, Twitter API lead developer Alex Payne outlined what the service is doing with the vast amount of data it’s receiving everyday. Payne discussed the service’s use of application programming interfaces (APIs), feeds and pinging services to give third parties and users the information they want from Twitter. He also revealed that Twitter is now staffing a project (including Payne himself) to come up with a best way to handle the distribution of the so-called “firehose” (that is all of Twitter’s unprotected updates). Apparently, this wasn’t enough for blogger Dave Winer.
Winer, who has been at the forefront on a number of technologies including Real Simple Syndication (RSS) and blogging over the past couple decades, thinks Twitter needs to do more, lest it become the next Netscape. Netscape was the first major web browser in the 1990s but faded into obscurity and eventually its demise as Microsoft took over the market with its Internet Explorer browser. Winer sees the same thing happening to Twitter, a big Internet player coming in and stealing its micro-messaging customers — unless Twitter fully opens its data doors.
Of course, as I’m sure Winer knows, that’s easier said than done. In the post, Payne indicates that Twitter would like to expand its firehose (sent via Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol — XMPP) to other services (right now its only in experimental usage with certain services like FriendFeed), but that it wants to make sure the data can be reliably served before that happens. Winer apparently takes exception to the part in which Payne indicates that Twitter will still have an approval process for this firehose data.
While most people would undoubtedly like to see a fully open Twitter, the service likely has its own reasons for not fully opening itself up. First of all, any number of sites created with malicious intents (such as, oh I don’t know, terrorist ones) could use Twitter’s firehose data to give the service a bad name. Second, Twitter, at some point, still needs a business model to make money, and perhaps the access to firehose data could lead to that. (I’m not saying they’ll do that, but it’s certainly an avenue they could look at.)
Certainly a big player, maybe even Microsoft again, could move in to try and make a new version of Twitter that is fully open. But if Twitter hasn’t died by now, I’m not convinced that it’s ever going to die. After all, this is the service that was basically unusable for a few months earlier this year, and came back stronger than ever. It’s also seen a number of challengers, ones that were arguably better and more feature-rich (Pownce, Plurk, etc) come along, but fail to match Twitter’s sustained popularity.
Winer himself has been a huge proponent of one, Indeti.ca. But despite his and others best efforts, its growth (at least for its site) has not only stopped, it has basically fallen off a cliff the past few months.
How about Twitter’s traffic? Has it fallen? Not exactly — it’s skyrocketed. (That blue blip of a line is Identi.ca.)
What I wrote about Indenti.ca when it launched in July still pertains:
The problem with “Twitter killers” is that they don’t actually kill Twitter. Why is that?
It’s the users.
As in, Twitter has them. Sure, it can easily be argued that the so-called “early adopter” users aren’t all that important in the long run, but Twitter has been seeing some real traction among regular people outside the Silicon Valley echo bubble as well. There are more news organizations now using the service than I can name off the top of my head, including major television ones like CNN, ABC and C-SPAN.
I was at a wedding a few weeks ago with some high school friends who are in no way involved in the tech industry. Not only had they heard about Twitter, one of them has an account! My freaking mom visits Twitter (to check up on me). And most importantly of all, even Britney Spears now has a Twitter account. (Kind of anyway — at least her “people” have one for her.)
Twitter is moving mainstream. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it is. There is still some work for it to do, namely better mobile integration, but all indications are that nothing is going to stop it at this point. If it couldn’t stop itself with its suicide attempts (downtime) earlier this year, I don’t think even one of the big players is going to take it down.
Let’s not forget, one has already more or less tried: Facebook. While it didn’t release a stand-alone Twitter competitor, it did very much integrate all the Twitter basic features which it calls “Status Updates” into the main service, and has tweaked it several times for more use. People seem to use it more now, but still use Twitter too — more than ever.
You can find me on Twitter here along with fellow VentureBeat writers Eric Eldon, Dean Takahashi, Anthony Ha, Chris Morrison and Dan Kaplan. Oh, and we have a VentureBeat account (for our posts) as well.