Twitter turns a corner

September 15, 2010 | 1 comment

The Twitter DungeonDave Winer has weighed in on Twitter’s revamped site announcement, in which it announced 16 media partners whose content would be displayed within the Twitter interface when linked to:

For the first few years of Twitter encouraged guys like me to write little hack jobs to make it do things they didn’t have time to make it do. So I did. What’s the point if you don’t continue to support that work. I didn’t see my name in the list of 16 media partners. You say you didn’t know. That’s the point… You can’t know all the good stuff that’s happening so don’t make it all flow through you.

The reason Twitter is huge is that it listened hard to its users. Replies, hashtags, Twitter search, linked media, retweets and the notion of Twitter as a conversation medium are all things that came from the community rather than the platform’s developers. Yesterday’s announcement seemed to mark a turning point.

I’ve met both Ev and Biz, and I firmly believe they have their users’ interests at heart. I also don’t think Twitter is a dead platform, as Dave has suggested. But it does seem like they’ve had an ego injection: rather than listening and responding to its users, and maintaining a platform open to innovation, Twitter will pick and choose its partners.

One explanation is that there’s revenue involved; those partners might have paid to be included. I would call that fair – after all, it’s a private company with a lot of investors who need to see a return. But wouldn’t it be smarter to open the market for anyone to pay to be included, in (to be simplistic about it) a kind of Twitter content partner app store?

Picture: The Twitter Dungeon by Tony Dowler, shared under a Creative Commons license.

Using game dynamics to drive participation

January 26, 2010 | 2 comments

Going out and checking in

I’ve been using Foursquare quite a bit lately (here’s my profile). There’s a lot to be impressed by: not least the level of mobile integration. Foursquare doesn’t make much sense if you’re sitting at your desk, so it’s far easier to see where your friends are and check into a new location from the mobile app.

The way it promotes participation is even more interesting. The designers decided that just seeing where your friends were, and getting personalized travel tips, weren’t enough. You gain points – the same kind you get in Sonic the Hedgehog, say – for checking in at a location, exploring new places and telling the app about venues it’s never seen before. In turn, the points lead to badges, and there’s a weekly leaderboard for the top scorers among your friends. There’s no real tangible value to any of this, but you feel good about joining in. As a result, Foursquare is hugely addictive.

Open source participation

Over on Twitter, I asked:

Could the game dynamics used by apps like Foursquare be harnessed to make a more participative open source community?

Open source projects depend on contributions from their communities. Getting people to participate can be difficult; although many people will join in because it scratches some kind of itch, moral incentives like a place in the credits help. However, adding these kinds of game dynamics over the top could provide an extra push. Currently, the only quantifiable open source contributions are source code patches, and any software project has a lot more going on; this would provide an opportunity to quantify other, equally useful forms of participation.

Game dynamics in the enterprise

Graeme Hunter pointed out to me that this model wouldn’t solely be useful for open source. An internal project communications framework that also incorporated game dynamics could be a very interesting platform for ideas, solutions and internal innovation. He’s right; I think it’s an idea to keep in mind if you’re looking for software to use internally for your project.

There are also implications for online communities, where game dynamics are often already used (to rate individual contributions, for example). What if we used similar ideas for education? Or a community centering around journalism?

Photo by dpstyles, released under a Creative Commons license. It’s of a Target store in Milford, Massachusetts, where they use game dynamics to encourage faster checkout times.

Update: Graeme comments below with an exploration of what a participation framework using game dynamics might involve.

Reflecting on 2009

December 20, 2009 | 1 comment

The Christmas period is traditionally when I take a step back and consider what I’m going to do over the next year. For me, it’s a time for family, for quiet reflection and for evaluation. What have I done well? What will I do better next year?

During 2009, I left Elgg, the project I’d been developing for five years, and concentrated on real-world contracts and projects. I spoke at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and met some very interesting people who are going to provide a new model for news reporting in America. I’ve been working with them for the rest of the year, and look forward to writing some more about that project soon.

I’ve also been working with a local publisher in Oxford, creating GeoRSS feeds for their content and paving the way for a mashup with the official University of Oxford mobile site. Imagine walking around your hometown, seeing rooms and apartments for rent displayed on an augmented reality browser, superimposed on the streets themselves. It’s just one way that the web is meeting simple, real-world needs with innovative approaches that are quickly beginning to resemble science fiction. Data is being mashed up and made available in increasingly sophisticated ways.

I expect mobile to come into its own in 2010, particularly now that the mobile Internet market is projected to be twice the size of its desktop cousin. Augmented reality and applications like RedLaser are the more obvious manifestations of this, but I expect the nature of web publishing as a whole to subtly morph. Platforms like WordPress are beginning to recognize this in small ways, such as adding native support for the Twitter API, but expectations are being set far higher than this.

Hardware like the iPhone, the assorted Android handsets and smartphones like the Palm Pre are very affordable multimedia all-rounders which have turned ubiquitous connectivity into a mass-market feature. People are going to expect to be able to save any digital content from anywhere, and share it with anyone. In 2010, I intend to help them.

Twitter DoS and single points of failure

August 6, 2009 | 9 comments

Twitter went down today at the hand of a denial of service attack (alongside Facebook and Livejournal; the latter has also reported an attack). In the old days, you’d shrug it off and go and look at something else. Today, Twitter is such an integral part of the landscape, and some people’s businesses, that it made BBC News and was commented on all over the Internet.

The headlines are highly strung to say the least:

The stress of it all made TechCrunch come over all Mr Humphries:

Meanwhile, away from the hilarity, Dave Winer’s developing rssCloud and people are beginning to talk about Laconi.ca. The only model that makes sense is a distributed one: it’s a fundamentally harder problem to bring down a decentralized network, because there isn’t a single point of failure. So far, for example, DNS has remained pretty robust. As regular readers will know, I strongly believe there are very solid business and development reasons for going decentralized, too.

The web is becoming social, and those conversations are becoming more and more important. A malicious user or group shouldn’t be able to take down our conversation platform – or have the ability to dictate its direction. It’s time to think about a better way to build the social web.

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