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The Web desperately needs what Twitter could have been.

Stashed in: Interest Graph!, Twitter!, Tech biz, Software!, Best PandaWhale Posts, @ifindkarma, Advertising, Awesome, PandaWhale Mentions, lost souls, Twitter, grail, APIs, @daltonc, Svbtle, Russia and Friends, You are the product., @nealstephenson, Open Web

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This thoughtful post from Dalton really has me thinking:

I remember when you could go to and see the global firehose on the front page. They had no traffic. The global feed was mostly employees and their friends talking to each other.

That's pretty much what PandaWhale is right now.

Dalton continues:

When Twitter started to get traction, a year or two into their existence, I decided that Twitter was the Best Thing Ever. I realized that Twitter, because of their API, actually was a real-time protocol to connect various services in a novel way. I had debates with my other tech-nerd friends about whether Twitter could be one of the fundamental building blocks of the Internet via their powerful API. When reporters or investors asked me what I thought the most exciting company in the valley was, I would invariably answer “Twitter”.

Twitter's API was the beginning of the end for RSS/Atom.

Dalton continues:

As I understand, a hugely divisive internal debate occurred among Twitter employees around this time. One camp wanted to build the entire business around their realtime API. In this scenario, Twitter would have turned into something like a realtime cloud API company. The other camp looked at Google’s advertising model for inspiration, and decided that building their own version of AdWords would be the right way to go.

I stood up and saluted my screen after that paragraph.

I wholeheartedly agree: I fully believe that The Web still needs that realtime cloud service into which anyone can produce content and from which anyone can consume content.

Lunching Dalton continues:

As you likely already know, the advertising group won that battle, and many of the open API people left the company.

That's really sad.

"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks."

Twitter has also influenced startups that have come since then toward advertising.

Dalton continues:

While I can understand why the latter camp wanted to build an ad-based business, the futurist in me thinks this was a tragic mistake. If you are building an advertising/media business, it would then follow that you need to own all of the screen real-estate that users see. The next logical step would be to kill all 3rd-party clients, and lock down the data in the global firehose in order to control the “content”.

Dalton's prophecy is the new reality: Twitter controls the tweets.

Dalton concludes:

Perhaps you think that Twitter today is a really cool and powerful company. Well, it is. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been much, much more. I believe an API-centric Twitter could have enabled an ecosystem far more powerful than what Facebook is today.

I wholeheartedly agree.

The future is not Twitter.

Someone is going to have to invent an API-centric version of Twitter without Twitter's mediocre rate limiting.

Maybe it will be Google+.

Maybe it will be Facebook.

Possibly it will be Amazon, Apple, or Microsoft.

Or maybe it will be a new startup.

But it will never, ever be Twitter.

They've burned their goodwill with the developer community too many times for any great developers to ever trust them.

The Web needs what Twitter could have been: simple, easy-to-use rest APIs that return small amounts of JSON representing content that any (Web or mobile) app can employ for its users to consume and produce.

Someone who understands developers will need to build it.

Still, we could build an open Twitter but would anyone use it?

Agreed on all of this. Along those same lines, let the WAR begin:

I did notice that Twitter not only won't be participating in the message wars, but the design of new new new new Twitter pretty much hides "Direct Messages" from 99.9% of the users.

It's the unreliability of Twitter's OAuth that makes them an unsuitable partner for one of the others in the oncoming Message Wars.

Say what you want about Google and Facebook, at least they understand that OAuth needs five 9's uptime.

Downtime is no good, even for something as gossamer as tweets.


I am always a proponent of building an app as well as a service... but I agree that Twitter's command and control model is looking a little bit Soviet these days.

Twitter and Soviet Russia have something in common:

In Twitter, the advertisers are the users, and you are the product.

In Soviet Russia, product markets you:


We're actually so very close. Every web server can already return logs of JSON. Uploading perhaps needs to be a little easier. Identity->URL mapping and discovery needs a bit of help. Rapid change-and-delta flood-broadcast too.

Of course this is no news to you... given the KnowNow dreams and remembering we first met at WISEN'98:

Ah, those were the days. I can't resist plugging my crude-but-early 1998 UDP-based proposed standard for filling some of this need, "WhoDP". Some may recognize in the 'mood server' example of section 15 strong analogues to Twitter:

Nowadays websockets and dynamic hashtables and JSON APIs and years of P2P/NAT-traversing/RSS-feeding experience ought to provide some other consensus/convention fabric for a distributed Twitter.

But it seems tough to settle on a focal set of conventions without corporate leadership, and corporations are (and in fact must be) distracted by any monopolizable aspect -- a bit of territory to have a "messaging war" over.

This summer of Twitter discontent ought to be a golden era for but isn't responding and looks like Yammer.

So as much as Caldwell and you and I wish Twitter was a more open platform-enabler, ambitious companies seem to run away from that small-potatoes, hard-to-charge-for market in favor of proven models or even just a tiny whiff of a chance at being the vertically-integrated network sovereign.

If it's just another GOOG-AAPL-MSFT-FB monopolist challenging Twitter, ho hum. Let's have another wildcard like Mozilla/Firefox.

Gordon, I cannot believe it was 14 years ago that we met to discuss how to build an open protocol for such technology! Reading through those links really take me back.

I agree with this...

Nowadays websockets and dynamic hashtables and JSON APIs and years of P2P/NAT-traversing/RSS-feeding experience ought to provide some other consensus/convention fabric for a distributed Twitter.

...but you're right that corporations want to own the network.

What would an open Twitter look like?

It would look like something that everyone wants to own. And that's the problem.

And yet, The Web is open. So can't there be an "open Web" equivalent of Twitter?


Twitter took the best opportunity any organization ever had, and flushed it.

The only reason Twitter exists is the inertia of mobile telecom operators, particularly, the power incumbency has over stifling of innovation. It offered the ability to socialize short SMS-style messages. This was something any of the telecoms could have done, but didn't. The ultimate current popularity of tweeting is due to this massive market need: e.g. the greatest opportunity. Whoever created such a platform adjunct to the biggest communication market in history would dominate it (at least until the next disruption opportunity).

The choice at that point becomes whether to build an open platform to cement that dominance; something upon which anybody could develop realtime social or messaging applications, and become the indispensable core to the entire internet, or to milk it for easier advertising money.

Twitter chose the latter.

To be fair to Twitter, we're on year six and the advertising money has been anything but quick. :)

okay.... easier lol

But the point is the same, if they had built the platform, and ran the Twitter brand on top of it, while allowing other applications to operate on it as well (or at least exploring each quantum-pivot option themselves as R&D), Twitter would be the $100Billion company right now (or at least well on their way) and their financial base wouldn't be rooted in the fickleness of (what i've referred to before as) the Tamagotchi question.

Something else has occurred to me: In Frank Herbert's Dune universe, one of the great saying is "He who controls the Spice, controls the universe!"

It's normal, in this context, to think of Spice as a commodity like oil. However, if you recall that Spice is necessary for Guild Navigators to tweak their way into navigating starships across intergalactic space, you'll realize that Spice is primarily a platform for communication. In fact, in later books, civilization collapses as the spice-bearing sandworms die off.

The fundamental building block of communication (and hence of civilization), is the message. He who facilitates messaging, will profit from it. However, once you make it a gimmick, and Lady Gaga becomes your queen, you've lost sight of it's potential, and ripe for a Muad'Dib.

In a protocol like email, no one controls the message and everyone benefits.

Can there be the equivalent for this kind of communication?

I think the opportunity that Twitter had and blew, has largely passed, tho a Sendgrid/Sendhub/Twilio/someone-else-similar combo could come up with some disruptive applications and whittle down Twitter's dominance.

Sendgrid would come at it from an email perspective.

Twilio would come at it from an SMS / phone perspective.

Yes, either of those could be interesting.


If you are not too firmly ensconced in the RSS-is-dead camp,

Dave Winer writes about routing around or replacing twitter all the time. One entry point:

RSS makes you feel guilty when you don't read something. Twitter doesn't.

And that small difference actually makes a big difference.

greatest PW convo yet!

Thank you Jared. :)

We've all been tilting at those windmills for a looooong time.

So you release your wonder protocol. About 3 minutes later, Microsoft will add a cool extension everyone wants making their version better, and so will Google, and Amazon, and Twitter, and everyone else.

Why? because if they don't, they will die. Because the entire business model for the web is simple - get all the users and sell the users to advertisers. Which works until they get bored and move on to the next new thing. Remember AltaVista, or MySpace, or Friendster? Don't worry, your kids won't have any idea what Facebook was ;)

So you're right back where you started. So long as the user is the product not customer, ya gotta have em all, and cooperation cannot exist.

Can the Internet support systems in which the user is not the product?

Yes. Examples include WordPress, Flickr, and Etsy.

What other non-ad-supported models are there?

a smart guy said "be the future you want to see" ... why not pandawhale?

I wonder what twitter would have been if they had gone the wikipedi route. and is it just too late.

It's too late for Twitter. They've burned too many people.

But it's interesting to think about if PandaWhale could get there.

First, more polish!

Clearly too much emphasis is placed on the so-called web. Having internet is not living on the web. Naturally, Twitter or FB can't present the solutions indicated here. Organization? Yes, Twitter blew it. Email? Please! Ad solutions? There would have to be universal recognition of the value of those sponsors, but then FB can't exactly start fresh as if it were the size of Pinterest.

Facebook can create a new application anytime they want.

Look at Facebook Home as an example.

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