Twitter: the world’s first privately owned Internet protocol

Could Twitter be the world’s first widely spread private Internet protocol? And are we comfortable with a private company owning it?

Firstly, I love Twitter. I post pretty much daily, and enjoy reading and chatting to a bunch of people I’d never have met otherwise (hell, would I even know my sweatheart @lu_lu if it weren’t for Twitter).

But Twitter’s new annotations has me thinking (see Techcrunch’s An Early Look At Twitter Annotations Or, “Twannotations”).

I love the idea of annotations. I love data. The more the merrier. We can do so much more with Twitter when they add a feature that allows anyone to add extra metadata to a tweet.

The beauty of annotations is that Twitter opens itself up to becoming a protocol for all sorts of applications and devices. Imagine a TV with built in twitter to send a tweet with information about the show you’re watching. The annotation means the TV, or other applications, can show you what other people said about that television show, and could even display it across your television screen in real time.

Sounds cool. Well, I think so.

I love the idea of this. However, I worry that what Twitter is doing is trying to become an essential Internet Protocol. Just like the protocols that run email, or the web. The only difference is that Twitter owns the protocol. They can change it when they want. They see all of the data flowing in and out. And all this means we’ll rely on them, more and more, as more and more applications or devices build Twitter in.

I know a lot of people have been suggesting a decentralised version of Twitter for years. Darcy Laycock even wrote a great Twitter like application that worked on top of IRC (Kookaburra). I wonder if this might be a better way for us all to go.

I also wonder when we’ll all realised we’re locked in, and Twitter owns a large slab of the Internet.

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3 thoughts on “Twitter: the world’s first privately owned Internet protocol

  1. I think in becoming a defacto protocol of sorts, twitter is honestly doing more good at the moment than harm. Aslong as they don’t assert IP laws / any form of copyright over services providing the twitter api (if they are legally able to?) the protocol is relatively open meaning in a lot of cases (i.e. as in my Kookaburra hack you linked to) it’s relatively trivial for developers to write their own implementation.

    A great example of this (at least when I tried it a year or two ago) was present.ly – a similar product tailored towards a similar (although more niche) market but by implementing the open (in terms of availability, not as in source) twitter api specification they opened themselves up to a lot of different clients. In that regard, all it takes is for a client (i.e. tweetie 2 for the iPhone allows you to use custom endpoints).

    I think it is partially true that twitter is locking us in but at the same time it’s pushing forward a general api / protocol which others can use to build applications. Aslong as they don’t attempt to sue others for implementing the server side aspect of it, the onus is on those building clients to support it from an openness perspective.

    In other words, as long as they’re not preventing others from implementing it (and I realised I’ve probably said the same thing several times by now), it’s a pretty reasonable environment, although I do dislike the fact (as you noted in the post) that they ultimately have control. But in doing so, they’ve evolved at a much faster rate than most open specifications.

    As a side note, I’m still eagerly awaiting annotations especially so I can try building a blog engine / some simple database on top of it just for the hell of it.

  2. Great post Rich. Mind you, it doesn’t seem like too long ago that people were saying similar things about Adobe’s Flash player, as there is so much Flash video on the web, including YouTube videos.

    That suddenly seems not to be so relevant anymore, what with Steve Jobs and others deciding that it shouldn’t be so. Perhaps the digital world is a big enough place that things can’t go too far down one particular road owned by one company without being reigned back in?

  3. Pingback: Digital Culture Links: May 10th 2010 « Tama Leaver dot Net

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