Twitter makes a grab for namespace dominance

Twitter has been in the news a bunch lately, especially due to their new deal with the Library of Congress to archive the entire public feed of all tweets.

(And that is worth a brief tangent: what do people think about this?  Is a permanent archive of Twitter actually worthwhile in isolation?  How many conversations occur solely on Twitter, and how many are bouncing between that and other social and online media?  I sort of wonder if future historians are going to find this feed incredibly frustrating — basically getting to read half a conversation for the entire world.  But I digress…)

Anyway, today’s main Twitter topic is their new @Anywhere service, which is looking pretty clever.  It’s their equivalent of Facebook Connect, and many of the features are similar — for example, it allows you to log into Twitter via a third-party site and do Twitter-ish actions from it, lets the site do some actions on your behalf, and so on.

But the really intriguing bit that I note in their documentation is that, if you put a little @Anywhere Javascript into your site, it will scrape the page and hook up all @-tags for you.  That is, if someone refers to @jducoeur on the page, it’ll show up as a live Twitter link to me, with a popup card, a link to my Twitter feed, and so on.

This is smart and forward-looking, and recognizes that namespace matters.  Most services today still have completely flat namespaces, where everyone gets a unique moniker.  (With the conspicuous exception of Facebook.)  You can make arguments about whether that is good or bad (and I suspect most serious computer geeks would argue that it’s a horrible idea), but it’s damned convenient to have that global handle for yourself.  It’s not at all unusual for people at high-tech meetings these days to put their @-tag on their name badges, since it’s a convenient shorthand for finding them later.

But of course, there are a hundred disjoint services out there, each of which has its own namespace.  So what is your “real” handle?  Twitter wants to make that your Twitter handle — your @-tag is the center of your universe, from which people can get to the rest of your social world.  They’ve recognized that the @-tag is one of their key bits of intellectual property, and they’re starting to leverage it.

(I’ll note that Google Buzz is already doing some fancy and smart things with their own @-tags, having picked the style up from Twitter.  But that only works within Buzz — the interesting thing here is that Twitter is trying to reach outside its own domain.)

I don’t know if they’ll succeed in this, but it’s a smart game to play, and I’d bet that we’ll see more services try to dive for this.  I’ll be very curious to see if they get any traction with it…


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