What seems (and remains, for some) an inane, pointless, geek plaything has taken the Web 2.0 world by storm. It’s been called a “microblog” (thoughts too minor to warrant a full blog post — which seems oxymoronic), a form of presence (or, with SMS notifications, “push presence” — also somewhat oxymoronic), and a harbinger of “everywhere messaging.” Some say it’s a great GTD tool, others say it’s the perfect platform for the “back channel.” Folks Twittered the Oscars, and reliably Twitter earthquakes.
The first Twitter break-up (Twumped?), the first Twitter firing (Twooced?), and the first “LonelyGirl15″-esque Twitter drama will no doubt surface soon. Not bad for a site that was just a little side project of Odeo. Now Twitter is the star, and its big brother is for sale.
But Twitter has its shortcomings. Simplicity is both its greatest virtue, and its greatest weakness.
First, one of the buzzwords of the day is “conversation.” Two-way interaction, not one-way broadcasts. Now that we’re all accustomed to reading something and then responding to it, it really feels strange to not have that ability on Twitter. Indeed, since Twitter is often the space for the random epiphany and clever quip — the kinds of thing that can easily spark a conversation — the inability to comment feels wrong.
Of course, people do respond to Twitters… by Twittering. And therein lies the second, well documented downside of the service. People start to use Twitter like a group IM client rather than a microblog or form of presence, and feeds become a frustrating stream of half conversations.
bobdobbs: No way. Check your e-mail.
bobdobbs: Ooh, I love that place, Lisa. Have fun!
bobdobbs: LOL @ Kevin.
Unless I’m subscribed to everyone bobdobbs is subscribed to, I’m missing a lot. More importantly, though, I shouldn’t be missing it at all. These messages should be sent one-to-one, not broadcast. Now, Twitter does have a “direct message” feature. But why they went that far, and didn’t incorporate the “@username” convention from ICQ (and a convention that Twitter users already use on the service), I’ll never understand. I can only guess they know that people Twitter “private” conversations on purpose, to show off their connections, or witty brilliance.
Still, Twitter could enable comments (which seems possible, since they already have permalinks for individual Twitter posts), and allow people to redirect or filter out posts that begin with “@.” Two little things would improve Twitter in a big way.
They should also keep their eye on Jaiku.
Jaiku is, without a doubt, extremely derivative of Twitter. And while adding features to a simple concept makes sense, it can also be a way to ruin a good thing. Time will tell if Jaiku makes any inroads, but it’s definitely a service Twitter better be studying carefully.
First of all, Jaiku supports comments, which similarly appear in your stream but also link back to the original post. I might read bobdobbs’ clever retort to Lisa, and be able to follow the conversation back to its start. But what really makes Jaiku a compelling variation on the Twitter concept is their specific focus on the “presence” aspect of the service. With Twitter, you’re answering the simple question, “What are you doing?” Jaiku poses the same question, but lets the rest of your online life answer for you, too.
Jaiku is a presence aggregator. You have your Jaiku posts, but they are mixed in with feeds from your blog, your Flickr photostream, your del.icio.us bookmarks, your Last.fm profile (but not iLike), and — yes — your Twitter account… basically all the other places you’re active online (provided there’s RSS support). To be sure, sites like Profilactic and Ziki similary mix and mash your assorted web tomfoolery, but without the presence component.
With Jaiku, I don’t have to post, “Posting photos to Flickr while listening to They Might Be Giants.” Jaiku already knows, thanks to my Flickr photostream and Last.fm. I don’t have to post, “I’m blogging from the conference floor.” The blog entries will just show up. How many times have you seen Twitter posts with links or TinyURLs to point people to another personal space on the web? Jaiku pulls it all into one place.
Jaiku does have some rough edges, to be sure. There’s no instant messaging component, which is one of the most compelling features of Twitter for some people. And while it looks like it should do SMS the same way Twitter does, it hasn’t worked for me (and may not for people outside Finland, at least for now).
Finally, they may have to better explain what Jaiku is, or make it more clear to users. They need to emphasize the “you,” and the “presense,” in their introduction. A couple of my friends have already seized on it as a barebones feed aggregator — that is, throwing in the feeds of their favorite blogs rather than their own content. Suddenly their Jaiku feed is full of Techcrunch posts. Or, confusingly enough, my blog posts!