And speaking of Twitter, let’s talk Metadata

Another Twitter topic for today, possibly even more interesting: they’ve finally woken up to the value of metadata.

This one’s not a surprise to me at all — it was in the plans for CommYou, and I’ve always thought that it was necessary.  The thing is, when you’ve got a service like Twitter, that is fundamentally about Text Dammit, you have to wrestle with the question about what to do with the rest of the world.  I mean, there is a lot more to a modern online conversation than just text: pictures, video, even embedded games and such can matter enormously.

There are a variety of ways to deal with this — for example, Wave chose to define an open API so that, if you format your other stuff properly, it can be embedded inside a wave no matter what it is.  Twitter is going a different and arguably more open route, pretty much the same one I was planning on: let people embed whatever metadata they want inside the conversation, and let the Twitter clients decide what to do with it.

(For the non-programmers out there: “metadata” is mostly just a fancy way of saying “other stuff that is attached”.  The formal term in the Twitterverse is “Annotations”.)

We’ll see how they implement it, but I like the general approach.  The implication is that they aren’t particularly trying to control the attached metadata — they’re just going to allow developers to put stuff into Tweets, to use as they see fit.  As this post discusses, that’s potentially problematic, especially if all the developers go haring off in different directions.  But I don’t actually expect that to happen: frankly, the obvious thing for most sensible developers to do is to develop mime-type standards for the various kinds of metadata, so that it works pretty much the same way email does.  Indeed, I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see mime-based metadata extremely quickly after the Annotations feature rolls out, sometime in the next few months.

Impressions?  What uses do you see for this feature?  What dangers do you see?  (It *is* a potential malware vector, but given the diversity of Twitter clients I actually don’t expect that to be an immediate crisis.)

ETA: I just came across this Ars article, which points to this posting, which gets into more detail about how Annotations will work.  Summary: they’re very open-ended, but small.  You can’t actually embed much in the tweet itself (annotations probably capped at 512 bytes initially, 2k in the long run).  That makes lots of sense, but means that we’ll quickly see an ecosystem evolve around linking things *from* tweets.  For example, I give it weeks, at most, before we see clients integration photo sites with tweets, so that you can do something like take a picture from your phone and just tweet it, with the client saving the photo to a site, putting a link into an annotation, and compatible clients pulling that out and displaying it as if it was simply embedded inside the tweet…


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