March 28, 2007
@ 05:50 PM

Dave Winer has a post entitled How basic is Twitter? where he writes

So inevitably, a query about the value of namespaces leads you to wonder if there will be TwitterClones, web-based services that emulate the Twitter API, that keep internal data structures similar to Twitter, and most important, peer with Twitter, the same way Twitter peers with IM and SMS systems.

This is as far as I got in my thinking when last night I decided to ask Les Orchard, a developer I know for quite a few years, and who I've worked with on a couple of projects, both of which use the kind of technology that would be required for such a project --

What if there were an open source implementation of Twitter?

Nik Cubrilovic happened to be online at the moment and he jumped in with an idea. Les confessed that he was thinking of doing such a project. I thought to myself that there must be a lot of developers thinking about this right about now. We agreed it was an interesting question, and I said I'd write it up on Scripting News, which is what I'm doing right now.

What do you think? Is Twitter important, like web servers, or blogging software, so important that we should have an open source implementation of something that works like Twitter and can connect up to Twitter? Where are the tough sub-projects, and how much does it depend on the willingness of the developers of Twitter #1 to support systems that connect to theirs?

The problem I see here is that Twitter isn't like web servers or a blogging engine because Twitter is social software. Specifically, the value of Twitter to its users is less about its functionality and more about the fact that their friends use it. This is the same as it is for other kinds of social/communications software like Facebook or Windows Live Messenger. Features are what gets the initial users in the door but it's the social network that keeps them there. This is a classic example of how social software is the new vendor lock-in.

So what does this have to do with Open Source? Lots. One of the primary benefits to customers of using Open Source software is that it denies vendor lock-in because the source code is available and freely redistributable. This is a strong benefit when the source code is physically distributed to the user either as desktop software or as server software that the user installs. In both these cases, any shabby behavior on the part of the vendor can lead to a code fork or at the very least users can take matters into their own hands and improve the software to their liking.   

Things are different on the "Web 2.0" world of social software for two reasons. The obvious one being that the software isn't physically distributed to the users but the less obvious reason is that social software depends on network effects. The more users you have, the more valuable the site is to each user. Having access to Slashcode didn't cause the social lock-in that Slashdot had on geek news sites to end. That site was only overtaken when a new service that harnessed network effects better than they did showed up on the scene (i.e. Digg). Similarly, how much value do you think there is to be had from a snapshot of the source code for eBay or Facebook being made available? This is one area where Open Source offers no solution to the problem of vendor lock-in. In addition, the fact that we are increasingly moving to a Web-based world means that Open Source will be less and less effective as a mechanism for preventing vendor-lockin in the software industry. This is why Open Source is dead, as it will cease to be relevant in a world where most consumers of software actually use services as opposed to installing and maintaining software that is "distributed" to them.  

Granted, I have no idea why Dave Winer would like to build an Open Source competitor to Twitter. The main thing that will come out of it is that it will make it easier for people to build Twitter knock offs. However given how easy it is to roll your own knock off of popular "Web 2.0" social sites (e.g. 23, SuperGu, Uncut, etc) this doesn't seem like a lofty goal in itself. I'm curious as to where Dave is going with this since he often has good insights that aren't obvious at first blush.


Categories: Technology
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007 8:19:28 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I'll take a stab at this.

What's the main advantage to using Twitter? All your friends are using it. What about your fellow employees? Can they use it? Do you want your employees broadcasting their activities on a public network that your competitors can access? Probably not. Can you allow some people to view your activities while restricting others? Yes, but even then your activities are logged in a database that isn't strictly under your control.

So if you can create a Twitterclone behind your firewall, for use by your employees/usergroup/circle of friends, a lot of those problems vanish.

That being said, there are a lot of these kinds of virtual in/out boards already out there. Some are OSS, some are created in-house. Maybe the big benefit is that you clone the twitter API and allow the users of your private Twitterclone to use a basic twitter client?
Wednesday, March 28, 2007 9:22:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I can send Twitter updates from Google Talk to because XMPP is an open protocol designed for decentralization. Contrast with the SMS negotiations they must have had to do. This adds value to GTalk, Gmail, Gaim, Adium, and many other XMPP programs.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007 9:25:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Personally, I'm interested in self-hosting my own personal status accumulator (ala Jaiku [1]) that syndicates to or federates with central concentrators like Twitter.

Whether that second part is madness or not, I still like the self-hosting bit.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 9:29:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Social software is about open APIs not open source. It doesn't matter if Twitter clones are running the same backend software. What matters is that mashups that work with Twitter work with Twitter clones. More importantly, features added to all the Twitter clones need to converge in a single common API shared by all the clones. I blogged about this a few weeks ago at!C25834DDE437F621!137.entry.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007 11:13:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"In addition, the fact that we are increasingly moving to a Web-based world [...] is why Open Source is dead, as it will cease to be relevant in a world where most consumers of software actually use services as opposed to installing and maintaining software that is "distributed" to them."

Go on, admit it: you're just recycling the "Microsoft is dead" arguments from about 8 or 9 years ago.

Just like the first dotcom boom wasn't a good base for predictions about the future of the industry, neither is the current dotc^H^H^H^H Web 2.0 fad. Until "software as a service" turns into "software as a service you pay for", we're not going to be able to see its long-term impact.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007 11:22:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Say twitter charged $5 a month, now an open source clone look like an option see?

Open source = the power to change it + free

Whenever you need one or both, you go open source.
Thursday, March 29, 2007 12:05:54 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
May be you should look at Twitter as an event notification platform instead of social network platform.

For example, will it be good if your airline will SMS you if your flight is delayed? Or may be your printer will SMS you and your wife and kid when it running out of ink? Or UPS notify you the package information (they already doing it with email)? Or may be your tivo will SMS you if there is a power outage and it cannot record desperate housewife....
Thursday, March 29, 2007 12:16:51 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
All of these folks can send me an SMS today, all they need is my phone number. Why would you need to insert Twitter as a middle man into any of those scenarios?

I guess it is cheaper for them to simply call the Twitter API instead of dealing with the cost of sending SMS messages. However in that case they could also provide an RSS feed and I can use a service like to get SMS alerts when the feed changes.
Thursday, March 29, 2007 12:18:09 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Twitter is the new IRC. Think Channel-less IRC with the channels built on the fly from your list of friends.

Isn't that more interesting than Micro-Blogging? And it fosters conversation instead of broadcast "Hey look at this/me".

Unfortunately Web2 technologies and architectures suck for building scalable near real time comms. Hence the Curse of Success that Twitter are suffering now.

So who's building a better Twitter.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007 12:04:37 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
:: What if there were an open source implementation of Twitter?

Well, the fact is...

I don't know how SuperGu/Pligg/whatever has evolved since its separation from "meneame" (the original open source digg clone [original clone, oh yeah! ;) ]), but the latest iterations on meneame had something very similar to twitter called "notame"* (spanish for "note me") that even has the SMS and XMPP functionality.

The code is already free open source (affero gpl), so tell your friends and don't reinvent the wheel (or do it).

* search for notame on the meneame blog, in spanish
Wednesday, April 4, 2007 3:31:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think the real benefits come when you have:
* free software (like the proposed twitter clone)
* that talks using open standards (like XMPP)
* and can federate multiple hosted versions in a user-configurable way (as in, your twitter-clone talks to lots of other twitter clones)

This gives us things like e-mail, which is one of the oldest social software ideas...
Monday, April 9, 2007 7:40:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Does Web 2.0 change the equation for openness in software? Sure. Is open source dead as a result? Hardly.

Others have already rehearsed some of the reasons why: not all software is inherently social, firewalls matter, not everyone's as enthused about off-site data hosting as is the average MySpace teenager, and so on. There are many reasons to believe that open source will continue for the indefinite future even if Web 2.0 becomes the dominant model for all software development from now on.

But the more powerful reason, I suspect, is that openness is a cultural value, not just a technology strategy. Confusing the strategy of open-source with the objective of openness confuses the means with the end. Even if open-source software were to become effectively irrelevant, a culture of openness could shift to other, more contextually effective strategies. On the other hand, if the culture of openness loses its way, open-source will serve no independent purpose.

Is the culture responding to the threat represented by "Lock-In 2.0"? There are clear signs that it is. We've already seen Google, in response to cultural pressure (including pressure from its own employees), pledge to make it easy to round-trip content in and out of its systems. At least some other vendors have followed suit. We've also seen several open-source licenses updated to close a loophole and require hosted systems, too, to share their code.

Anthropomorphizing a bit, one could say that the culture of openness recognizes the potential threat represented by, and is taking appropriate steps to vanquish, Lock-In 2.0. By expanding open-source licensing requirements and coupling them with open content requirements, the culture is working to give consumers the same freedom of choice that open-source alone now provides for self-hosted, asocial software. That work is ongoing and evolving; collectively, it represents a reasonable and realistic response to the challenge. The good news is that Web 2.0 is developing in the context of a pre-existing culture of openness; as such, Lock-In 2.0 will have less opportunity to entrench bad habits in vendors before the pressures toward openness come to bear.

Nevertheless, the struggle is now, and will continue to be, an arms-race. Many vendors will continue to seek lock-in opportunities wherever they can be found, but as long as the culture of openness remains responsive, and as long as consumers understand their interests intelligently, then openness can continue to thrive and grow.

In sum, a more appropriate lesson to draw from Web 2.0 than "open source is dead" would be "eternal vigilance is the price of openness." The world changes, and strategies change with it. What's important is that the core value of openness remains.
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