Progress on the Open Web is Finally Reaching a Tipping Point

Today provided several serendipitous stories which is what led me to write this post along with its headline. I’ll start with some of my own observations.

One of the biggest barriers towards allowing a simpler and more fluid Lifestreaming experience is the lack of open standards. While creating a Lifestream has become a fairly simple process at this point, the ability to move data across the different services that make it up is another story. While there are several different initiatives trying to correct this problem, they have been moving slowly and lacked any real traction.

Just over the last week or so we have seen some major developments that are starting to shake things up a bit though. Both WordPress and Tumblr announced within days of each other their support for communicating with the Twitter API. Why is this such a big deal? Well Twitter is quickly becoming a common central communication point between all of our social networks, it is also a platform with the largest quantity of 3rd party apps.

So its been a little difficult to wrap our heads around the bigger picture here but from what I can tell the following will start to happen. More sites and services will start to do the same and soon what we currently are using primarily as Twitter clients will become apps that will provide the routing of data from one source service through Twitter and along to multiple destination services that we can configure. Apps like Tweetdeck, Seesmic and Tweetie will become our indispensable social media dashboards AND data routing platforms.

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“The Linking Open Data dataset cloud” Image courtesy of Regis Gaidot

I can tell you that developing data workflows and rules for where to send certain types of content while trying to avoid duplication with limited choices depending on whether I’m on a desktop or mobile platform has been the biggest challenge for my personal Lifestreaming. Things have gotten much better for me thanks to Posterous, which has taken care of a good chunk of my problems. I still have issues with duplication and I’m forced to send everyting through their service as the mediator. Ideally no single service would own this routing and if the Twitter API becomes an open standard we could see this flourish much nicer.

So the first post that caught my eye was this post from Freddy Snijder where he summarizes and discusses the Twitter API much better than I just did with its potential impacts as it relates to Activity Streams. Definitely worth heading over and taking a read but I snip this for you:

You might ask yourself, why would I want to retweet, reply and converse from one social media platform to the other? Well, for one, you would like to retweet/forward content items you found in the activity stream of one platform to the users of another platform because these users might use the second platform and not the first, or this specific content item really fits the topics conversed about on the second platform (interesting for specialized social networks such as on Ning).

Another important reason could be that you would like to augment content in a way that is possible on one platform but not on the other. An example could be replying as in reblogging. In Twitter you can reply only in 140 characters, which is sometimes cumbersome. It could very well be you want to reply to a tweet in the form of a blog giving you more space to elaborate. So, in this case, you might reblog the tweet to Tumblr adding your response in blog form.

Later in the day I read about how Facebook is testing the next generation of OAuth on FriendFeed. In March I was at SXSW and spent time with both Paul Bucheit (FriendFeed founder) and David Recordon (formerly of Six Apart and Activity Streams advocate). Now they are both at Facebook working together to hopefully make significant progress to open things up and enable cross communication with other services.

Lastly we learned last week that another Activity Streams advocate (and friend of David Recordon’s) Joseph Smarr was headed to Google to lead “a new company-wide focus on the future of the Social Web”. Then I see a tweet sent out tonight from Chris Saad linking to this post at the Google Blog by Jonathan Rosenberg about The Meaning of Open. This is quite the manifesto and if its principles are adopted I think we’re in for some good things.

So as you can see today, along with events over the last week, have prompted me to declare the tipping point. I hope I’m right about this and that we see an era of open free flowing data become a reality because frankly dealing with this has in my mind created quite a stagnant period for us this year where I was hoping to see more innovation but it can’t come until these issues are resolved.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Hi Mark

    Good post and agree we are close to a tipping point. I however do NOT think that the twitter api is the way forward. Yes it is RESTful but sadly it is an HTTP pull based publishing model which is therefore not realtime unless Twitter decided to support PubSubHubbub.

    Instead I would prefer to see XML/Atom based ActivityStreams over XMPP, AtomPub or PuSH being the way we distribute realtime content openly between social endpoints like twitter, linkedin, facebook, flickr etc.

    As for Tweetdeck, Seesmic and others (Google Reader), my guess is they will evolve to become ActivityStream aggregators/filters but they will never be my personal domain namespace. i.e sites like posterous, tumblr and WP.com are fast becoming personal domain namespaces where people “create, curate and control” their own content aka social objects which they distribute through autoflows to their social endpoints.

    Personally in 2010 I hope to see Posterous or Tumblr support ActivityStreams, Portable Contacts and Salmon Protocol. e.g Cliqset does most of this already but sadly is not a customisable personal domain namespace.

    But I do agree there is so much going on right now and 2010 will certainly be an exciting year for the Open Social Web. I think people will become more aware of data ownership and privacy.

  2. Sam, thanks for your thorough and insightful comment. While I also agree that the Twitter API isn't the way forward, I will say that I prefer that scenario than having no progress and stagnation with open standards. I personally have been getting tired and frustrated waiting for progress on the open front and welcome brute force tactics to jumpstart the process. Hopefully the right people will wake up and realize that concessions need to be made to avoid this from happening.

    That being said I like everything you proposed in your comment and totally agree about the namespace issue. It is critical to allow people to establish personal ownership and control of their data.

  3. Dear Mark,

    Many thanks for mentioning and quoting me in your post, I'm honored!

    Most likely social media services will jump on the bandwagon and enable their activity streams to be used by/processed through Twitter clients & services. What service wouldn’t want to access this enormous ‘installed base’ of clients and ecosystem of 3rd party services to increase engagement with users?

    If we would look back in the future to this period it could indeed have been the tipping point. However, currently, I would be more convinced when 1) I see the first one or two clients that are actually enabling users to converse and interact between different social media services/activity streams and 2) that there is a build up of users that actually like using it. My hunch is we will most likely be heading toward 2011 and beyond before we see this, but I hope I’m wrong! 🙂

    Regarding the thoughtful comments of Sam Sethi (hello Sam!): I think hope is not lost for better APIs & protocols that are more suitable for a web of activity streams and its applications. I can imagine, in a kind of transition period, services and activity stream clients will support multiple APIs and protocols, simply because we find out what other useful things we can do with this emerging web and how we like to use it most.

    IMHO supporting multiple protocols and APIs is doable as long as it’s confined to a few layers in the software and when it’s not affecting the stack/architecture as a whole, especially on the client side.

    Over the holidays I will take some time to dive in to the details & references of your post and Sam’s comment. It would be interesting to have a better assessment of what would really be required for a successful web of activity streams and, subsequently, what the consequences would be for the future if services would massively start implementing Twitter ‘clone’ APIs.

    Cheers,

    Freddy

  4. How plausible is it that we will soon be able to communicate with the twitter API from self-hosted WordPress blogs? I don't understand the technical aspects well enough to know if this is even a possibility.

  5. I read your profile today and it was so good to me.i feel you are the only one missing in my entire life so i decided to stop on and let you know that i am interested to be a friend first.When the fight begins within himself, a man's worth something

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