There is no doubt that from the mainstream point of view Twitter has been the tech story of the year, the arrival of the celebrities,news media, corporations and politicians has led to an explosion in use of the service. The attraction of Twitter is obvious, it’s very accessible and it brilliantly mixes the ability to broadcast to potentially vast audiences with the intimacy of conversation. The ability to sms to Twitter and the range of applications (that have been made possible by having an easily implemented API) means that the majority of usage is not through the Twitter website, this disconnect from the website shows us what Twitter really is. With Twitter we have seen the coming of age of a new medium that can be standardised and universalised in the same way email was.
We take it for granted now that email can be sent and received by anyone with an internet connection, an email account and some sort of software client, be that a dedicated application or a web interface, to anyone else with a the same facilities. However this was not always the case, before the adoption of the standard protocols we know today such as SMTP, POP and IMAP different organisations and ISPs had their own incompatible electronic mail systems. If you were on one and your friend was on another you could not send them mail. Looking back we can see the pointlessness of such a systems and history has shown us that by having standard protocols email communication has become so ubiquitous we barely give it a thought and providers of email facilities have to compete on price, quality of service and features rather than exclusivity. However that fragmented landscape of data silos and walled gardens is where we are regards to the phenomenon that is microbloging.
OpenMicroBlogging is an effort to create an open standard for micro-blogging. Our goal is a specification that allows different messaging hubs to route microblogging messages between users in a near-realtime timeframe, Evan Prodromou.
The most well known and widely used implementation of the OpenMicroBlogging standard is the Laconica platform as used by identi.ca. Evan Prodromou, the creator of Laconica took the decision to make the platform as accessible as possible so it requirements are modest. It’s written in php and can use common database back ends (mysql, postgres, etc), the aim is that it would be relatively easy to install (it took me less than hour to set up a Laconica instance on a beige box server at home) even in a shared hosting environment. If you go to the Identi.ca site you will see a Lanconica instance looks a bit like Twitter and will even accept Twitter API calls. However the difference is identi.ca is part of a federated network of OpenMicroBlogging instances. In practical terms what this means is that you can interact with users on any other Laconica instance in the same way you would users on your network.
The implications of federated OpenMicroBlogging go far beyond the media hype of Twitter. Interest groups (inevitably there is already an “adult entertainment” server ), companies or even individuals are able to run their own server and control their own micromessaging environment, content and the level of access others have to it. There is a slight irony that the open source platform allows you to have a completely closed private network if you wish. Obviously the ability to have an in house private system could be very useful within companies and organisations. From an agency point of view the ability to offer clients a microbloging network as a service in same we currently do with email, especially if that platform allows a fine degree of control in what resources can be accessed, would a good way to give added value with minimal development costs.
Another opportunity that this platform would give is the ability to mine a vast new datastream. This is already done to a certain extent on Twitter with trends and search but other functionality such as track (which lets you track keywords in the public timeline) have been withdrawn. However within the open microblogging environment the level of data introspection could be as detailed as you wish. Which may be why Google seem to be getting on board.
Significantly Google have recently announced that their open source microblogging platform Jaiku which is available through their app engine will be able to support Oauth, the authentication protocol which is one of the key elements in federated microblogging. Some see this as the big boy of the web’s first step in making Jaiku a fully OpenMicroBlogging compatible platform and it will need the involvement of such a big hitter to push forward the standard. As with any network the critical mass of users has to be reached for it to be really useful and at the moment is Twitter is the de facto micro blogging platform. Whether they open the doors and in one stroke make microblogging email 2.0 or go the way of the proprietary email systems of the past only time will tell.