Twitter, Utility

August 20th, 2012

Watts Martin:

If we think Twitter the service has long-term value as a fundamental Internet service—and I do—then Twitter the company needs to be disrupted. That’s not going to happen by building a clone with a more liberal software license or a better business model. It’s only going to happen if such a service becomes Internet infrastructure, no matter how many business models that breaks along the way.

I think that’s right, and it’s the reason I haven’t (yet) jumped on If Twitter’s intent on turning into a media platform rather than a communications utility, we’re going to need an open standard that anyone can use however they please, like RSS or IMAP.

What attracts me to Twitter is it’s an incredibly flexible and quick way to communicate with, in essence, the entire world, or just a single person. It works equally well for both. We’ve always thought of the web as linking up the world, connecting us all, but that wasn’t really true until Twitter was created. Twitter makes that a reality—with over a hundred million people on it, you can quickly find almost anyone you’re interested in, listen to them, and communicate with them, all in a very lightweight, non-intrusive way. That’s incredibly powerful, especially because what it does is allow communities to form that are incredibly intimate but also very open to others. Twitter is simply the best way to find new people you find interesting and to communicate with them. Think about how big a deal that is: it allows people who, before Twitter was created, may never have met, let alone heard of, incredibly interesting people. What’s especially powerful about this is that Twitter naturally exposes the underlying social network (the substantive links between people, not the social service) which underlies it, and so it’s ridiculously easy to find one person you find interesting and walk the branches of their social network to find other people you find worth listening and talking to as well. Think about the inspiration that allows, the new ideas, the collaboration, the new kinds of work. I think that’s revolutionary in the true sense of the word.

Which is precisely why, going back to Martin’s argument, that whatever replaces Twitter (if necessary) must be something open to everyone, and not closed off to a group of people who are willing to pay. This kind of network depends on as much people using it as possible. That’s the whole point of it. We need something like this, and I hope we find a way to retain this aspect of Twitter. That’s what I love about it, that’s why it should exist in the first place.