Twitter doesn’t innovate

Twitter may be at the peak of it’s innovation. They haven’t really made any substantial improvements in user interface or functionality in a while; hiding replies on user profiles is basically a minor hack. What would be far more useful is marking a user (or hashtag) as “read” temporarily hiding their tweets from your stream (analogous to marking emails as read in your inbox).

But fundamentally, there really isn’t much more Twitter really CAN innovate on. It’s a micro-messaging service. They missed the boat on becoming an identity service; Facebook Connect beat them to it. They seem to have de-emphasized SMS as an interface (at least for the US market) – imagine if they had aimed at taking on BBM and WhatsApp? And they still insist on the 140-char limit, though they could easily allow for a “read more” type extra text (the way it’s done in blog software) or take other simple measures to alleviate the crunch, such as not counting http:// towards the char limit in links, or even allowing links to be metadata the way that photos and video are (the link would still be displayed in-line). You can’t even do simple markup like bold or italic. If links were meta like photos, you could even have a “Recent links” sidebar the way they do for your photos on your profile, but nope.

Twitter has no built-in emoticons, has no elegant way to show a conversation between more than two people, and when you click on the new “view conversation” link, doesn’t show it to you in the original chronological order. Twitter is deprecating RSS which means most bloggers use a plugin to embed tweetstreams; lists are usually not supported.

And of course, as Dave Winer has been saying all along, Twitter isn’t open. You can’t export your data and you can’t really even access older tweets (and did I mention that search is broken?).

It’s also worth pointing out that Twitter’s advantage of the network effect isn’t permanent. Look at what happened to MySpace and FriendFeed. Users will leave if they have a better option; you just need to woo the early adopters like Scoble and make a big splash at SXSW. Plus media attention will be lavish upon any company that has the balls to actually say, “we are out to eat Twitter’s lunch”.

Twitter doesn’t need to be beaten, it just needs to be threatened so it gets out of its comfort zone. Right now it’s chasing after NASCAR and trying to give users tailored content; that’s a fool’s game. Users will never warm to an algorithm’s suggestions – just ask Netflix (or better yet, ask a user).

And Twitter isn’t thinking big at all. What could they achieve if they wanted to? How about aiming for the moon – like becoming a defacto replacement for email?

Google+ is closed, Facebook and Twitter are open

There’s a simple reason that Google+ can not be a facebook killer – it adds to social noise and creates a walled garden where data can not be exported from nor imported to. There are no RSS feeds generated by Google+ that you can pipe into Twitter using Twitterfeed, nor can you import tweets to Google+ the way you can with Facebook. There is no Google+ API like the Facebook API that allows data import to the service from other services.

This is a huge, critical flaw in Google+ that guarantees it won’t be a Facebook killer.

A better use of Google+ would be to unify Gmail and Circles such that you can create whitelists for email with a single click. There’s no email service at present that permits a user to create a whitelist easily – you have to tediously set up manual filters instead, and even then there’s simply no way to say “send all emails (except some) to Trash”. A simple whitelist functionality is the real way to declare email independence. I fully support what MG Siegler is trying to achieve here but until we can say “receive mail ONLY from X, Y, Z” we will never be free of the tyranny of the inbox.

Maybe Google+ is the first step. But we need to stop treating it like Facebook and start thinking about how it can be used to improve the original social network – email. If Circles can be used to define whitelists, that’s real value.

Related: a little slideshare I put together a few years back about managing social noise. Still relevant, if a little outdated.

Tags to Hashtags #wp

I’ve written a new plugin for wordpress entitled “AHP Tags to Hashtags” for use with WordPress and WordPress MU. The plugin can be found for now at pastebin here, I will update when it’s been added to the official wordpress plugin repository.

The plugin appends the tags for each post to the post title in the RSS feed. For example, for a post titled “Awesome post” which is tagged with “Amazing, Awesome, Super awesome”, the RSS feed will show the post titles as “Awesome post #Amazing #Awesome #Superawesome”. Note that spaces in a tag are removed, and hash symbols (#) are prepended to each.

This plugin is useful primarily to bloggers who pipe their posts into Twitter. The post tags become Twitter hashtags. Since post tags and twitter hashtags are both a form of metadata, it is natural to simply and automatically reuse the one for the other.

Consider a blog post on the Iran election. Normally youd tag the post Iran and then when you tweet it, youd have to manually insert the twitter hashtag #iranelection. Now, you can simply tag the post iranelection (no # symbol) and it will automatically be hashtagged. Combined with a service like Twitterfeed, this plugin can greatly automate the process of piping relevant posts into the twitterverse.

Note that the plugin makes no attempt to check that the total length of the post title, including hashtags, falls within the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter.

At present the plugin has no options. The feature roadmap includes the following:
– add title character length checking
– toggle using tags or categories for conversion to hashtags
– let user decide whether to remove spaces in tags, or convert to underlines or other character

this is a pretty simple plugin so other feature requests are appreciated.

UPDATE: version 2.0 of the plugin is at pastebin here. This version no longer appends all tags, but only those already beginning with #. This way the blogger can selectively choose which tags they want converted into hashtags.

true blue: facebook friends friendfeed, whales on twitter

Facebook is now in a relationship with Friendfeed. It's complicated.
Facebook is now in a relationship with Friendfeed. It's complicated.
This is potentially huge – Facebook has acquired Friendfeed:

Obviously Facebook has already built out some of FriendFeed’s functionality so there is some overlap, but there are still numerous ways FriendFeed beats out Facebook’s News Feed setup. One of these is the way stories are ‘floated’ to the top as new users comment on them. And FriendFeed’s system is truly real-time, unlike Facebook’s feed which users have to manually refresh.

But the biggest win here for Facebook is the FriendFeed team, which includes an all-star cast of ex-Googlers.

Still very much a breaking news story but I am sure the Techcrunch folks will update with more info as they get it.

The obvious motivation here is to pound on Twitter’s “statusphere” market share. The big drawback of FF until now was that it was just a “better Twitter” – but without Twitter, 90% of the purpose of using Friendfeed was essentially rendered moot (as was the case with the DDOS attack over the weekend). But by folding in FF’s feedslurping uber-twitter capability, Facebook can create a one-stop shop, making all facebook users who are also on twitter stay within facebook for their twittering, which of course keeps them in control of the ad viewing. A souped-up Friendfeed application for Facebook seems likely; or even more likely, a new default Facebook tab (“Feeds” ?). This is technology that the Facebook people are going to want to put front and center.

The adoption of FF-ish features like commenting on everything and “Likes” are also unique to the FB/FF ecosystem and these should be integrated. Even google got into the “Likes” act so I think Twitter is going to have to respond to this by introducing that feature at least (which would incidentally be useful in meta-twitter metrics of who to follow and whatnot). I also don’t see how Twitter can resist the inevitable “groups” feature to compete with Friendfeed’s Rooms. I actually use Rooms to power virtual groups on Twitter like @otakusphere.

Twitter has serious catch-up to do, feature-wise, but until now they haven’t felt any real competitive pressure because no one else had the numbers to threaten them. With Facebook’s takeover of Friendfeed, however, the game has just changed dramatically.

UPDATE: It’s confirmed: Facebook and Friendfeed are now in a relationship. It’s complicated.

when addictions combine: Twitter + Warcraft = TweetCraft

I recently passed on the Palm Pre because I realize it would be harder to tweet while driving. Yes, yes, I deserve all teh oppobrium such a statement should bring upon me. Still. it gives you an idea of my addiction to Twitter. In the meantime, I’ve been delving deeper into Warcraft and while my addiction there hasn’t quite reached my twitter levels, it still is enough of a compulsion that I was watching television of some beachfront yesterday evening and thought to myself, “hey that looks like the island I swam to off the coast of Booty Bay in Stranglethorn Vale”.

So, I regard this latest technical innovation with the appropriate mixture of fearful sweat and eager drool – TweetCraft, an in-game twitter client for WoW. Here’s a video on how it works:

Thus far I have been playing WoW without any addons of any kind. Obviously it’s time to break the virgin seal on my addons folder. I’ll be piping my tweets to the @otakusphere account. After I install the new hard drive on the gaming machine, that is.

Aside – does anyone know when the patch comes out that lets you gain riding skill at level 20?

One Million Strong for @aplusk

Ashton Kutcher has done it – he has amassed one million followers. He’s using this publicity to donate mosquito nets to African children, but that’s just scratching the surface of what is possible.

Use your imagination.. what could he do, with his combination of celebrity and follower clout?

– he could raise money for a politician or cause
– he could single handedly launch a new brand or artist
– he can function as a one-man Digg or Slashdot effect

but more importantly, he can actually influence the public sphere. Consider that twitter users are the elite, early adopters and opinion makers. Ashton Kuther can now promote ideas to this elite. He’s a nexus of potential memes.

This is a landmark day. We don’t know how yet, but we will.