My Idea of March - a decentralised microblogging/ chat system

This post was written 4 years ago.
Tue, 15 Mar 2011
Chris Shiflett has suggested a blog revival, and i'm having one of those days, trapped between sorting out domestic chores and procrastination, and not being entirely productive, so what better time to blog than right now!

One of the current topics being discussed is how twitter have asked developers to stop creating new twitter clients (for the non-technical a "twitter client" is a program or "app" such as tweetdeck that lets you use twitter on your computer or phone without visiting the twitter website). Apart from being an annoyance to people who want to create new clients, many developers including myself are starting to read between the lines, that this is a sign of the corporate machinery clanking into action to control how twitter is used, so they can more efficiently monetise it.

I think this is kind of inevitable - i've never seen a service adopted by the masses so quickly, and most long term users will remember when twitter struggled to scale as it suddenly became a network of multi-millions rather than a few hundred or a few thousand.Any social network system like this needs a critical mass of users to make it useful - but looking at my own needs, that critical mass consists of a couple of hundred of people who are mostly friends and colleagues in the web/ digital media industries. I don't use the "trending" stuff and i'm not interested in following celebrities, so a critical mass for me would be for all or most of those people to adopt another system. Yesterday there were mumblings about, and sure enough you'll see that i've reserved my username (after some signup confusion and accidentally signing up to a mailing list instead). is an open source solution and I look forward to seeing what develops with it, but I can't help feeling that the real solution (especially for the technically inclined) is a decentralised system, just like blogs have always been - you host your blog either on your own site, or using a service such as blogger, and people consume them directly or via RSS readers. This is another example of geek-led innovation - the geeks were doing it first, the mainstream followed later.

I've had a quick look around for a decentralised micro-blog system, and it seems there are a few already out there, but before I look closer to see if any of them would fit my needs, here's how I envisage it working:-

  • You self-host a micro-blog on your site, it's just like a blog, but each post has a 140 character limit
  • The micro-blog has an RSS feed, a variant that can optionally include extra info such as "in reply to" and "location"
  • You use a self-hosted micro-blog aggregator to follow other people's micro-blogs (this could of course include a twitter stream, using RSS not their restrictive API)
  • The aggregator could be on your site, or even running locally on your machine, and of course you could build ANY DAMN CLIENT YOU LIKE to view, interact with, and post to your micro-blog
  • You could hook into most of the existing services for things like link shortening, image hosting etc.
  • Private messaging would need some thought, but it's essentially like having a contact form on your website (and the same spam considerations).
  • Popularity contest "follower" stats would be optional - it would actually be pretty difficult to work out how many people are following you, other than analysing RSS stats, which can be misleading.
  • Global search would be tricky without a central database, but I rarely use that.
  • No central point of failure means the platform would be very resilient, and there would be no massive server-farm or staff to fund.
  • No owner means the users run it, people may develop services around it to make money, but there would be no central owner
  • The core tech should be really, really simple - the basic service should need no integration with services or API's, or software installation requirements which may scare people off.
So, once the geeks have invented the platform, there would be a similar barrier of entry to participating as there is to starting a blog - you would either need to install it, roll your own, or sign up with one of the hosted services I can imagine popping up a few months later. Therefore mainstream adoption would be much, much slower and because of the way I want to use a service like this, that isn't a bad thing.

Looking at my twitter profile, I currently follow 372 people, a number that i'd like to get down, but social etiquette dictates that I only unfollow people if they get ridiculously noisy or off-topic. I bet if I analysed how many people I regularly interact with or find unmissably interesting I would get that number down to less than 100. If I ever get round to building it, I wonder if I could persuade 100 geeks to try it? Of course as mentioned earlier, I could build an aggregator to follow peoples twitter streams via RSS, so I don't necessarily have to have other people adopt the platform immediately, so maybe that's where I will start - I wonder if scraping RSS feeds counts as use of the twitter API?

archived comments
Some great ideas here Rick. After another fail whale this evening decentralized seems like a good idea.

Joe Leech 2011-03-16 22:08:33
The de-centralized nature of XMPP would work really well as a solid back end for a new service such as this. It already supports (via the pubsub mech) the idea of posts as well as private messages and has the advantage of support for private as well as public multi user chats. All running on privately or publicly owned servers communicating with each other using an open source protocol. Sounds ideal!

There's also the additional advantage that XMPP is real time so no polling.

You just need to design the experience to feel less like "IM" and more like twitter which would be achievable.

Stefan 2011-05-25 11:17:10

The day I quit twitter

This post was written 4 years ago.
Tue, 01 Jun 2010
me not on twitter
Today was the day I quit twitter.

Actually, "quit" is too strong a word, but today is the first day in months/ years that I haven't been checking it all day, every day, at least every few minutes. Other than times where i'm completely "offline", this is the first time i've reached midday without checking it all. If it's not an addiction is certainly a bad habit!

Over the last few days I had become increasingly annoyed with twitter, in the same way you can become annoyed with anything if you overdo it. I'd been trying to work out how best to handle the signal to noise ratio, how I might prune the list of people I follow (without offending people), or how to apply filters to narrow down what I was receiving. But then last night I deleted my twitter client from my phone, removed tweetdeck from the dock on my laptop and decided to see what happens without it.

Right now, I have mild anxiety over "missing out" on stuff - from social gatherings, to "stuff" that people are talking about. On a positive note, I will hopefully have less of those conversations where someone tells me about something they have done/said/bought/broken/invented/eaten and my stock reply is "yeah, I saw your tweet about that..."

In the web world, I might miss out on some new techniques and technology, although i'm sure anything pertinent will eventually appear on my radar. In the real world i'll still get the news through traditional media, and the bbc news website of course.

Besides missing out on important stuff I think other people might be talking about, the "twitterverse" is surely missing out on a whole load of my inane thoughts that I would have compulsively tapped out on my phone or laptop at various points today. One of those things is that I will hopefully blog more, as all this self-indulgent drivel has to go somewhere.... I'm also hoping to be more productive on personal projects - I have to keep myself creative by taking a break from client work and building stuff that i'm not being paid for, and I think a lot of that energy has been sucked up in twitter recently.

So anyway, I haven't deleted my account or have any immediate intention of doing so. I also haven't announced anything on twitter - it will just invite conversation and draw me back in. I just need to cold turkey - let's see how long I last!

archived comments
Is the internet going to fast for you Granddad? ;)

Andy Gale 2010-06-01 15:10:33
What's that you say young man? YOU'LL HAVE TO SPEAK LOUDER!!!

Rick Hurst 2010-06-02 14:44:35
I'll miss your 'inane thoughts' on Twitter but look forward to more blog posts. I like this one!

Katja Durrani 2010-06-17 12:01:55
Tags: social media / twitter /

7 ways to make me unfollow you on twitter

This post was written 5 years ago.
Wed, 10 Jun 2009
(this is all a bit tongue in cheek, don't take too seriously!)
  1. Tweeting a link to anything that begins with "x ways to.."
  2. Posting any link without at least a vague explanation of what i'm going to get if I click it.
  3. Posting the same thing more than once (intentionally).
  4. Mentioning how many "followers" you've got. Have you actually checked what percentage are spam followers? Have you noticed that twitter acounts with lots of followers attract spam followers exponentially? "Ooh - i've got loads of spam in my email today, I must be popular!"
  5. Tweeting everything you hear/ see at a conference i'm not at/ interested in (in reality this is probably temporary, so i'll likely just move you to the "noisy" group in tweetdeck for a bit)
  6. You are/ become a popular celebrity with a gazillion followers. Unless I feel like i'm having a conversation with you, or you are incredibly funny like @davegorman you are out.
  7. You are really, really noisy (see note about noisy group in tweetdeck)

archived comments
/unfollows @rickhurst

mikek 2009-06-10 11:47:29
@mikek yeah, I know - my 24hr twitter unfollow monitor just went off - the dogs have been released!

Rick 2009-06-10 12:36:49
Nice post, Rick. I agree with most of those - I would also add 8) Auto-tweeting/link-dumping or simply acting like a computer rather than a human... that really bugs me, esp. when sin 2) is committed too.

iamkeir 2009-06-10 12:52:22
Oy! I didn't want a smiley face?! I wanted the number 8 followed by a closing bracket!

iamkeir 2009-06-10 12:55:18
I would add - people who only tweet on the subject of twitter

Iain 2009-06-10 15:26:20
Oh and people who auto-tweet their blog posts about shiny bathroom porn... uh - hang on..! ;)

Iain 2009-06-10 15:27:50
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: twitter /

new sweetcron/ codeigniter based site Too Old To skate

This post was written 6 years ago.
Tue, 03 Feb 2009
too old to skate
I'm pleased to say i've achieved another of my 2009 goals, by launching the (unfinished) new version of one of my personal projects Too Old To Skate. The main site is now running php/codeigniter based sweetcron, which is used to pull content in from the original wordpress, flickr, delicious, twitter, vimeo and a friends blogger based site. I have plenty more planned for the site, but little to no time to do it, so I thought i'd upload the site unfinished in the meantime to allow myself to do incremental updates, rather than be embarrased by a holding page.

Amongst the plans are:-
  • bring in the content (articles and photo galleries) from the now defunct plone(2) based DFR Skate zine - i'm thinking some sort of PHP/ codeigniter* front-end sucking in content (as XML/JSON or even plain HTML) from a Plone 3 site acting as a content server. Doing something like this with Plone has been on my mind for years! Maybe I should stick this in as a 2010 goal. Alternatively it may just end up as a skinned Plone 3 site on another subdomain - either would be good.
  • Skin the blog to fit in with the main site.
  • Other awesomeness - this is a non-commercial personal project and therefore my playground ;-)
*Having now played with both codeigniter and cakephp, I think I prefer cake. However as sweetcron is codeigniter based it would be plain silly to be using cake on the same project.
This post was written 6 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

How to use twitter for marketing and PR

This post was written 6 years ago.
Wed, 14 Jan 2009
Some insightful tips on this site about using twitter for PR and marketing:-
(sorry, couldn't resist posting that!)

archived comments
very funny !!!

Karl 2009-06-10 12:59:52
This post was written 6 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: social media / twitter /