Posts Tagged ‘twitter’

The little problems of coarse-grained privacy

May 14, 2010

I have to admit that I’m taking twitter a lot more seriously than I used to — at Arisia this year, @shava23 convinced that me that, if you manage your flist very carefully, it can be an extremely useful information feed.  Yes, many people still post too many “I’m eating waffles!” tweets, but if you ignore those and focus on friending people who mainly post content, it can be concisely useful.

(There are lots of folks who use Twitter for socializing.  Honestly, I don’t get that: even Facebook is a lot better at it than Twitter is.)

But it’s still got real problems, and one of those problems is its ridiculous all-or-nothing privacy model.  In most social networks, you choose on a post-by-post basis which items are locked and which are public; in the good ones, you can design highly customized filters for who will get to see what.  But in Twitter, either your entire feed is public, or it’s all locked — there’s no in-between.  That made sense when all posts were via SMS, but I think that stopped being the case quite some time ago.

This has some serious mal-effects — and one of them relates directly to that usefulness thing.  Consider: Twitter is most useful if you limit your following to people whose post information you find useful.  It’s still a social network, though, so unfriending is fraught — I’m sometimes forced to do so, in the interests of keeping that filter narrow, but it’s not something to do casually.  And if somebody’s feed is locked, I can’t see anything they say until *after* I friend them and they allow me in.

The result is that I find myself leery of friending anybody whose feed is locked.  Before I friend them, I can’t see what it’s like, to figure out if it’s information-rich.  And I’ve been doing social networks for long enough to be just a little nervous about the potential drama if I follow somebody, see that they’re posting way too much, and immediately drop them.  So I wind up not reciprocating a bunch of follows, which hurts the social network.

(Yes, it’s now possible to use lists to limit who I am actually reading.  In the long run, this may ameliorate the problem.  But third-party support for lists is still often crappy, so I’m not using them as much as I might wish yet.  Someday…)

And speaking of Twitter, let’s talk Metadata

April 19, 2010

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…

Twitter makes a grab for namespace dominance

April 19, 2010

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…