It’s fair to say it took me a while to fully ‘get’ microblogging. In fact, initially Twitter left me as cold as a corpse in a deep freeze.
Inevitably, things change and like an old woman, I reserve the right to change my mind more frequently than my underpants, and in 2008, I started using Twitter to post a continuous bytestream of inane drivel in less than 140 characters.
Last July, when identi.ca launched, I immediately signed up for the open source microblogging service. I even built my own Laconi.ca instance - not necessarily because I intended using it but just to see how easy (or hard) it was to install and configure the software.
As a controlled experiment, I set myself the task of participating fully on identi.ca to see how long it would take me to acquire 100 friends on identi.ca. The answer, surprisingly, was 14 days.
Since then I have really enjoyed the sense of community on identi.ca, I have met lots of interesting people and enjoy the technically oriented focus of the folk over there. identi.ca isn’t Twitter and the majority of my ‘friends’ steadfastly continue to use Twitter. This is understandable - Twitter gets all the media coverage. Twitter is where most people live and freedom is all about the freedom of choice.
I have continued to be a keen user and advocate of the identi.ca service as I think it offers several advantages over Twitter and it has genuinely made me consider the role of open source software versus proprietary systems with lock-in and closed data silos.
identi.ca has continued to be actively developed and it’s exciting to follow developments and build each new version as it is released. Evan Prodromou and the identi.ca team actively participate on identi.ca and are genuinely responsive to honest, constructive feedback from users.
However, this week has seen a couple of developments that have sowed the first seeds of doubt about the future of identi.ca (not Laconi.ca) and raise a nagging concern.
The announcement of a hosted, off the shelf microblogging service - status.net with premium features costing undisclosed amounts of money. Obviously, Evan (and the identi.ca team) can’t exist and feed their families on the many plaudits, thanks and congratulations of 60,000 identi.ca users and he was always going to have to monetize the service to pay his mortgage. However, the provision of a paid for service with premium features raises a few issues. In all the congratulatory coverage, sensible, intelligent people seem to have conveniently overlooked this particular ’elephant in the room’.
There is an obvious potential conflict of interest. If Microsoft are paying $50,000 for a hosted microblog and demand tight integration with Outlook which Evan fundamentally disagrees with, will he yield ? Will the development of other OpenMicroBlogging (OMB) functionality be delayed due to the demands of paying customers (large or small) on status.net ?
Obviously, identi.ca is built on Laconi.ca which is Open Source so anyone is free to fork the code and develop the software independently from Evan. For example, I could theoretically extract all my data from identi.ca, import it into my own Laconica instance and microblog away in the federation of Laconi.ca instances until my heart’s content.
Today, we get another far more worrying piece of news - identi.ca obviously have more funding than I thought. My worries about Evan and his family living in a Montreal hostel, eating beans on toast and children with no shoes were clearly ill-founded. Identi.ca have announced the acquisition of Twitter.com with the following immediate results:
- identi.ca now has a Twitter like theme - urgh !
- We are already starting to see the inevitable influx of Twitter celebrities (Britney Spears, Barack Obama, Guy Kawasaki, Guy Cashmore, Jonathan Ross).
- The ‘Featured’ tab on identi.ca used to feature interesting individuals and long standing identi.ca advocates. Now it is consumed with Twitterati.
- It can only be a matter of time before the spammers follow
This reverse takeover of Twitter is rather like applauding The Clash’s resolute refusal to play of Top of The Pops and then turning on your telly to see the band performing ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ with Tony Blackburn as your smiling host.
To use another musical analogy, do you remember the very last song on the very last tour by the Sex Pistols in America and immortalised in the film ‘Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle’ ? After the last song, John Lydon squats down on his haunches and sneers at the audience.
‘Do you ever feel like you’ve been cheated ?’
Well, Evan, yes - I do.