microblogging – Stay N Alive

Twitter, The New Micro-Spammer and the Need to Fix CAN-SPAM

Marketers seem to never learn.  Time and time again they have tried to sacrifice loyal relationships with customers in order to take the easy road in hopes to get the small percentage out of millions that might convert into one-time sales.  Affiliate marketing is ripe with these people hoping to “get rich quick”, without regard to how it is done.  I some times wonder if these people would sacrifice their own souls in order to gain a quick buck.  It would certainly seem so as we have been inundated with junk mail and e-mail spam, viruses, worms, porn, and other tools intended to spread what they’re selling to mass audiences in as fast a manner as possible.

Technology has sought hard to stop such problems.  We have anti-virus solutions that stop the malware, but evidently it’s not good enough, because viruses and worms and malware still spread.  Google’s Gmail has excellent spam filtering software for e-mail, as do other services such as Yahoo Mail and Hotmail.  Yet, I still get spam e-mail.  There are even services which try to stop the amount of junk mail you receive, yet even that isn’t fool proof.  It seems no matter how much technology we throw at it, the spammers will always find a way to circumvent the process.

Government is doing all they can do as well.  Here in the United States, CAN SPAM act makes it easy for government to prosecute against spammers.  The act was meant to thwart the problem in the early 00’s where e-mail spam was running rampant.  The marketers all complained, claiming it would reduce the amount of money they could make, worries of economic crisis ensued.  But after the act went into place, marketers began to realize they were actually seeing more money than before because they were actually focusing on people that were interested in their product, rather than people that weren’t.  I admit a lot of my spam went down at that time.

Enter 2010.  Twitter is almost a standard.  Facebook is almost a standard.  We are seeing the era of micro-messaging take form, and it doesn’t seem this era is going away any time soon.  As with any new communications technology, so come the spammers that come along with it.  As I can attest from my own company, the spammers are now out of control on Facebook and Twitter and almost any other service that enables micro-messaging, and they’re fighting their best to stay on top of it all.  I admit they’re probably doing all they can, too.

On SocialToo in just the last month, we have already automatically marked near 3,500 DM messages as spam out of a total of 3,500 users that utilize the service. Since we implemented the service just a few months ago we’ve marked near 8,500 DM messages as spam. And that’s just DMs on Twitter! Considering there are in the 10s of millions on the service and DMs aren’t the only means of spam, you can see the problem Twitter and Facebook are facing.

It was this reason I added these spam filtering services on top of SocialToo.  I too want to do what I can to help kill these problems.  I’ve seen it all – even people abusing my own service to increase their numbers and in return spam those followers with things their followers never intended to receive.  It was this reason we complied with Twitter’s request to remove automatic unfollow of those who unfollow you recently, and frankly I agree with Twitter on the move – they’re doing the best they can to thwart spammers, and I want to support them in that process.  Look at this video I found on Youtube recently – in it, a man is demoing software that uses a combination of your desktop and outsourced workers in India (likely through services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk) to quickly create accounts, send a few tweets each to increase, gain, and grow followers, and spam those followers with affiliate links. It’s appalling the way he says this is a “secret” only a “select few” marketers know about – the fact is I already knew about it – it’s no secret:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlHsrSBUVr4&hl=en_US&fs=1&hd=1]

Source: http://www.boblallyblog.net/?p=776 (http://twitter.com/boblally and http://twitter.com/successtoolme)

This guy’s software is just one of many, and I argue it does this the hard way.  Now we have the ability for applications to sit on top of the browser and completely control  the context which a user views the web.  Applications like GreaseMonkey, extensions and plugins, and even Kynetx, while they can be used for good, could all be used in this way with just simple HTML and Javascript to create accounts and spam with them.  There’s not much Twitter or Facebook or even the makers of GreaseMonkey, Firefox, Chrome, IE, or Kynetx can do about them (although Kynetx at least has a controlled user directory through which they can at monitor these things).  There are already tools like Hummingbird out there that do this for relatively cheap, and there will be more.

It’s time Government step in and put an end to this.  CAN-SPAM was written for long-form communications, but it needs to be modified to allow for the short-form. It specifically mentions e-mail and cell phone communications, not micro-messaging services.  Recipients should still have the opportunity to opt-out of the messages they receive. Perhaps the enablers of such communication such as Facebook and Twitter need to provide a means for message senders to provide an opt-out location that attaches to their messages.  That’s just one idea – I’m sure there are many other ways of doing this.

CAN-SPAM needs a provision which specifically targets the micro-messaging space.  It needs communication which specifically says what marketers can do on these services, and how people can opt out.  As I know very well, this will not stop all messages, but it will cut off a large majority of messages, which I know are being used by legit Lawyers and Doctors and business owners everywhere in the US to cost Twitter thousands of dollars and waste the time of countless people.

We need to do all we can to stop this nonsense. I want to see these micro-messaging spammers prosecuted.  It won’t happen unless the US Government modifies CAN-SPAM.  How can we do this effectively in the micro-messaging space?

Cinch Enables On-Site Recording of Audio for the Stream

CinchEarly this morning Rob Blackin posted a Cinch, debuting finally the ability to record audio straight from CinchCast.com’s own website.  Until today users could post photos and status updates on the micro-podcasting network, but its core service, audio, could not be recorded from the site itself.  Today they fixed that, enabling you to hit record, and save audio from any audio input on your computer.  I’m sure there will be many podcasters and audiophiles rejoicing.

BlogTalkRadio’s CinchCast.com, up until recently, has had an iPhone app to record audio, along with an API, and the ability to just call a number on your phone and record audio straight from any phone.  The service enables anyone, no matter where they are, to record audio even without an internet connection, and it gets added to their stream of Cinch updates on CinchCast.com.  Each stream has its own RSS feed which can be fed into your favorite reader or feed aggregator as well. (I feed mine into FriendFeed)

This move should enable podcasters and those that want to use more professional audio equipment to also post high quality audio shares to the site.  For instance, let’s say you’re a musician and you want to share a quick, live, bootleg preview of a song you just released.  This enables such capability straight from the desktop and any sound equipment you have.  Or perhaps you’re just sitting at work at your computer and just want to record some thoughts.

Screen shot 2009-12-22 at 10.44.27 AM

It will be interesting to see what new types of Cinches get produced from this.  Currently, the company is already broadcasting short audio snippets from Bill Cosby, and tech bloggers Robert Scoble and Louis Gray, along with many others are using it to post short interview clips from the conferences they attend and companies they visit.  I’m using it as a daily personal journal as well.

Cinch’s focus on audio brings some interesting use-cases for a social media stream that text and video simply just don’t satisfy.  I can’t wait to see what comes next for the company.  You can follow me on Cinch at http://cinchcast.com/jessestay.

Disclosure: Cinch and BlogTalkRadio are clients of Stay N’ Alive Productions, LLC, my consulting company


What Are You Saying? BlogTalk Radio Introduces MicroPodcast iPhone App Cinch

skitched-20091015-203806Some times text just doesn’t cut it.  Some times video is too much. Today the popular Podcasting site BlogTalk Radio resolved this issue with its new micropodcasting platform, Cinch, and the release of their new Cinch iPhone app.

Cinch aims to give you a micro solution when a full podcast is just too much.  The iPhone app gives you a status bar to describe what you’re saying, along with the ability to add an image to the audio recording.  Hit record, you can use the phone’s private microphone or turn it into a speakerphone and catch everything around you.  Enter your status update, attach an image, and it goes up to Cinch in just a click of a button.  You can also set it to automatically post to Facebook and Twitter, and even send images to a custom photo album on Facebook.

Here’s the cool thing about it: All this is just a wrapper around open technologies.  Every “Cinch” you post gets added to an rss feed at feed://www.cinchcast.com/yourusername/Cinch.rss so you can do cool things like syndicate those into a blog or import them into FriendFeed (that goes into Twitter), etc.  If you need to send audio to Cinch, you don’t even need the iPhone app.  Just add 1-646-200-0000 to your phone directory, attach the name “Cinch”, and call that number any time you want to post a new Cinch.

Cinch’s API

Cinch even has an API!  If you’re a developer just go to http://www.cinchcast.com/api.aspx and you can find all the documentation on how to get set up.  Remember the Building Blocks I was telling you about earlier?  Cinch enables you as a developer, entrepreneur, or business to use what Cinch and BlogTalk Radio are good at, audio and podcasting, and integrate it into your own website.

So FriendFeed, for instance, could automatically integrate Cinch imports into its list of supported aggregation sites.  Cinch’s API covers the whole breadth of what it currently offers – via the API developers can create new Cinches, share Cinches, modify user accounts, edit and post Cinch text (you can just post Text and not audio if you opt to), edit and create comments, etc.  The list is pretty long so I encourage each of you to get familiar with what you can do.

Also, here’s the cool thing about the API – they provide search at the start.  From the beginning, via the API, any app can search for new Cinches, creating unique ways to search for new audio on the network.  I think this will be powerful.  I’d love to see what people do with it! (Imagine a Wave bot enabling audio in Waves, for instance)


Of course, an iPhone app and service like this wouldn’t be complete without a site to complete it all.  At CinchCast.com you can also register (as you can straight from the iPhone app or just calling the number above).  You can login and register using just your Facebook or Twitter accounts if you like, search the global Cinch directory, view what others are saying comment on Cinches, and follow others.  You can follow me at http://cinchcast.com/Jesse-Stay.

With BlogWorld Expo this week and the Real-Time Web Summit, it will be interesting to see the buzz that comes out of this.  Could this be the South-by-Southwest for BlogTalk Radio and Cinch that happened to Twitter a couple years ago?  Starting tonight and tomorrow I’m going to go around doing quick 1 or 2 minute interviews with people I find around the conference.  I’ll post them on my Cinch feed, which also populates FriendFeed and Twitter.  Listen for them for some great commentary and opinions on the state of the Blogosphere.

Here’s my first one with Louis Gray, where I ask him about his favorite sessions of the day, and ask him, “Is blogging dead?”:


You can follow me on Cinch at http://cinchcast.com/Jesse-Stay – go check it out now!

Disclosure: Cinch and BlogTalk Radio are a client of mine and I am helping them with their API integration and internal API design. They are not paying me to do these interviews or to promote them.





"Fish Where the Fish Are" No Longer Applies

big_fishMy good friend, Jeremiah Owyang had a great quote he liked to share in his presentations, stating that the days of old-style marketing, forcing your customers to your site, no longer applied. He stated that we must “Fish Where the Fish Are“, and right he was. With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, YouTube, MySpace, etc. it was now possible for companies to get into the conversations of their customers, where they were conversing rather than trying to get them back to their own site to encourage that. I’d like to suggest that even that philosophy’s evolving though, and like with the previous philosophy, Facebook’s leading the way.  Now, instead of “Fishing where the Fish are”, you can bring the entire lake to your website and again, those conversations are again all happening under your own brand. Now you get to fish in your own backyard.

Last year Facebook introduced Facebook Connect to developers to enable developers to integrate the Facebook Platform right on their own websites. I’m not sure developers or businesses fully knew what was coming at the time, but it sounded good.  Mark Zuckerberg talked about expanding the ability to share on Facebook to the web, and keeping the fine-grained privacy controls Facebook is known for along with that.  I believe a new way of marketing may have begun with that launch.

If you get a chance, go sign into HuffingtonPost.com through your Facebook login. Look – all your friends from Facebook just automatically got imported onto HuffingtonPost.com with just one click! And you never left the site.  Huffington Post gets this concept – their readers’ conversations on Facebook are all happening through their own website, and they’re enabling new conversations from that!  Their users never have to go back to Facebook to converse the news they’re reading with their friends.

Another great example is Digg.com. If you log in through Facebook there you’ll notice with no effort your friends all get imported as friends on Digg.  Now, every new friend that logs into Digg via those means also gets added, automatically, as a friend on the site. Digg has brought Facebook back to their own brand.

Soon you’ll start to see the same for microblogging. Whether it happens via Facebook, or via open source platforms such as Laconi.ca or WordPress, brands will begin to bring ways for you to bring short-form conversations to their sites as well, enabling you to post out to Twitter, Facebook, and others and bring those conversations back into the site. This is the way it all started, and now we’re able to merge the old marketing and new marketing into a more complete solution that brings the brand back into the equation.

There are many tools available now, and many being developed right now that are bringing that “sea of fish” back onto your own property.  Tools like Facebook Connect are teaching you how to fish in that backyard pond so you can feed a multitude.  Now you can swim with the best of them in your own swimming pool!

TodaysMama Launches a Laconi.ca Instance That Works


As long-time readers of my blog know, I am a very strong proponent of self-hosted, branded micro-blogging communities. Imagine, for instance, if ESPN were to create a Twitter-like site, just for sports enthusiasts (call me!). People are known for talking their minds on Twitter, but when someone mentions what they ate for lunch, they go nuts! How about a Subway-branded micro-blogging community for food-lovers? Another example I have used is a community, solely for Moms to communicate and share with other Moms. That’s why I was excited when Rachael Herrscher, CEO of TodaysMama, sat down with me looking for new ways to build community around their brand. What we came up with is something I’ll admit blew me away when I saw the final version. Yesterday they launched the live version of it, TodaysMama Connect for the world to see.

TodaysMama Connect – What it Is

TodaysMama Connect, put quite simply, is “Twitter, for Moms” (as I call it). They’ve taken a simple open source Microblogging platform, Laconi.ca, and have made it beautiful, something your Mom could use. The site has simple microblogging functionality, enabling users to post, in short burst, what they’re doing at the moment or what they’re thinking, while at the same time communicate with each other via @replies or direct message functionality.

In addition, the site uses a feature of Laconi.ca, groups, to allow groups of people, such as what we’re seeing through the #GNO (Girls Night Out – takes place every Tuesday night) “group” on Twitter, to truly communicate as a group without disrupting the flow of the site. In fact, the very large #GNO movement which makes Twitter trending terms every Tuesday has also created a group on TodaysMama Connect, and the group is continuing what they started over on Twitter, in the more Mom-focused environment. When users send !groupname and their message, the message goes out to only those who have joined the group on TodaysMama Connect. There are already hundreds of groups to join, top groups including “Toddler”, and “Office”, and “Potty”.

The site integrates fully with Twitter, so you can use Twitter directly from the site itself, importing your current Twitter stream into TodaysMama Connect, and also sending your updates from TodaysMama Connect out to Twitter. In addition, as a Laconi.ca instance supporting the OpenMicroBlogging (OMB) standard, the site works fully with clients such as Twhirl, which support Laconi.ca and OMB. I even got it to work on my iPhone with the LaTwit app (using http://todaysmama.com/connect/api as the API URL). You can get it to work in Twhirl using username@todaysmama.com/connect as your username.

Even if you’re not a techy and prefer a nice, plain, web interface, the UI is comfortable enough any Mom would enjoy using. The site supports normal login/registration, or if you have an OpenID you can login/register via that means as well. Registration was extremely easy. There is lots of help documentation, and if you get stuck, you can always pose your question, and @todaysmamastaff is listening (as is the CEO, @todaysmama).

What's Up?

The Power of Micro-Branded Communities

I’ve said this time and time again, and I’ll keep saying it. The only way Twitter will survive is if they open up by allowing other communities to communicate and build “Twitter” in their own environments. This is “Forums 2.0”, and Twitter just so happens to have the largest master Forum site on the internet right now. That won’t last forever if they keep their closed environment.

Businesses want their customers interacting in their own brand environments. Many have strict rules, requiring they host the content and do it under their own umbrella. Twitter can’t do that right now, and will never fully do that if they don’t open up.

At the same time, Twitter is a mess of mixed niches, all on the same platform. It’s very difficult as a brand to pinpoint users devoted and interested in a single type of product. It’s difficult to identify demographics. What TodaysMama is doing is enabling brands to now have a specific demographic of people they can target and share information with. Rachael Herrscher, the CEO, even shared an example of a local Zoo being able to share local deals to the Moms in the area. Businesses want this – and this is the perfect social environment to do it in. They now have the power to interact with one of the most powerful demographics on the internet – Moms.

The Future of Microblogging

This is only the start. What Laconi.ca and OMB allow users to do is connect with people, across platforms, in ways they weren’t able to do before. For instance, if someone were to create an OMB-compatible site for Dads, now my wife would be able to follow me as I interact with other Dads on the Dad-related site, and she would never have to leave TodaysMama Connect.

Evan Prodromau, the author and maintainer of Laconi.ca is offering services to help large brands set up and maintain these instances. From my conversations with Rachael, he was there the entire way to help with the technicalities of the TodaysMama Connect set up. Businesses like this type of professional service and guarantee. Large Brands will embrace this.

I know of several other large brands also interested in such a set up, and many don’t even know this is possible yet. Dave Winer is also looking to push this concept, as is Steve Gillmor and others. Twitter is a powerful force, but it has a long way to go before it can embrace every niche out there. I really don’t think people are as devoted to the “Twitter” brand as we think they are. They are devoted to “NASCAR”, and they are devoted to “ESPN”, just as they are to being a Mom, or being a Dad, and the products and services surrounding those. Twitter has led the way, but it’s time to break out of the mold.

If you’re a Mom, have a Mom, or are married to a Mom, I highly suggest you try out TodaysMama Connect. We are already seeing the site take off and I’m amazed by the many conversations I’m already seeing there. I think for the first time I may actually get to see my Mom, or my wife, truly microblogging and interacting with others via such a service. I only wish I could hear them from Twitter now. That won’t happen until Twitter opens up.

You can sign up for TodaysMama Connect at http://todaysmama.com/connect.
TodaysMama Connect ScreenShot

Announcing Follower Messaging and Follow Statistics for SocialToo.com

socialtoo_logo.jpgI’ve been throwing hints on Twitter over the last week or two that I’ve been working on this, and with a little extra time I finally got it together. Today I’d like to announce that, as of this moment, we have some really cool new features for Twitter users on SocialToo.com, all in one place!

SocialToo, which is trying to be “Your Companion to the Social Web”, is seeking to build the tools and utilities that compliment your experience on the social networks you belong to. Up until now, anyone could sign up and automatically get the ability to have it follow all those on Twitter that follow you. The script ran once a day, and would do all the work for you, while also enabling you to blacklist users you don’t want it to follow. This enables you to automate, while making exceptions, making management of your friends on Twitter much easier. In addition, by providing Facebook credentials it would redirect “yourusername.socialtoo.com” to your Facebook profile.

Today, I’d like to announce some new features:

  • First of all, for those with less than 2,000 followers (this is due to a Twitter limit), we’re now updating your followers up to the hour – as Twitter improves their API I’ll update this to work even more realtime. We’re working with Twitter on getting their API improved to handle this. If you have 2,000 followers or more instead of just once a day, we’re now updating every 6 hours, so even your followers will update faster than before.
  • Today, we’re adding the ability to add a message that we’ll send to all your new followers via direct message. This can be a great opportunity to thank your followers, or, as a business account, tell them about a unique promotion you are running. However, if you’re just signing up and aren’t already following those who follow you, we recommend waiting until your account syncs up before turning this on, or all those we follow will get dm’d, even if they’re not new followers. This should only be applicable to new accounts – if you have an existing account, check your preferences and be sure to turn this feature on!
  • In addition, if you have a bunch of people who followed you, you followed back, and then they stopped following you (this is the case for many Twitter spammers), we’ve added the ability to turn on a feature that unfollows those that are not following you back. I think it’s who you follow that matters, so my recommendation is to use this feature sparingly, and turn it off when your account is back in sync. You can use it however you want though.
  • We’ve got a fresh new design! – okay, I admit, we’re not perfect yet, and were this the golden days I’d say we’re still technically in “beta” (I hate that excuse though), but we got a superstar designer to offer some help on the design for this – thanks so much to our designer!! You know who you are. The new design will come into play much more in the next round of features.
  • My favorite feature: follower statistics. Not only are we now tracking those that follow you, but we’re also tracking those that stopped following you. You’ll now get an e-mail every night telling you the followers that stopped following you, and who your new followers are (and consequently who you followed). This is turned off for all existing users – go into your preferences to turn this on and find out details about those you’re following and those who may have unfollowed you (and we’ll soon provide other statistics to help you find out why).

As planned, I think we’re changing the game in making your social experience better all in one place with these tools. You may be familiar with other sites that do similar things out there, but you will quickly find that SocialToo.com is easier to set up, more automated, more accurate, and much less hassle than some of the other services out there.

Oh, and there’s one more really big thing. You’ll have to wait a few weeks to hear our next announcement though. Much more on the way!

You can sign up at http://socialtoo.com (that’s T-O-O, like “tool”, or “also”). Follow us on Twitter at @socialtoo for more updates!

Web 2.0 – A Strange New World

Luke StayLuke Stay is my younger brother, and fellow geek like myself. I like his writing style so I asked him to start guest-blogging on Stay N’ Alive. You can follow Luke on his blog at http://lukestay.com, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/afrowhitey, or FriendFeed at http://friendfeed.com/afrowhitey. –Jesse

About 6 months or so ago, my brother, Jesse, would not quit talking about some crazy new service he was using online called Twitter. One day, I got bored enough and decided to check it out. Little did I know, that service would serve as some sort of wormhole, propelling me helplessly through cyberspace into a strange new world, referred to by its own inhabitants as, “Web 2.0.”

I suppose I should start off with a little background on myself. I primarily work as a Stagehand in Las Vegas, NV for the local branch of IATSE. My area of expertise there is as an Audio/Visual Technician. As an A/V Tech, I am paid to install large screens, large digital projectors, large plasma screens, and many other audio/visual components for the various conventions and conferences that come to town. Sadly, I still use a 32” analog TV as my primary source of entertainment at home (yes, I did already get my free digital converter box, thanks for asking). I am an A/V geek, an A/V geek with debt that can’t afford any of the high-end components he installs on a semi-daily basis. It’s a sad existence, I know.

That being said, I am no stranger to computers or the Internet. I grew up trying to get my family’s ancient computer to do things it shouldn’t have been able to do and crashed it many times in the process. I learned computers by trying to get the family computer back up and running before Dad could come home to find out what I had done … again. I took programming courses in High School and Java in College, but ultimately decided programming was not for me. Instead, I chose to study film and have aspired to the life of a screenwriter ever since. I can’t write my own code, but I can understand most code and manipulate it to do what I want. In summary, I am a computer geek with a pretty lame disguise.

I started using Twitter mostly out of curiosity. At first, I just followed Jesse and watched, observing this strange society for a month or so. Then, I started to contribute, replying to some of Jesse’s tweets. This got his attention, and in turn, got me some more followers and a much larger society to observe. Things were pretty quiet at first, mostly Tweets about what people were doing, or what people were reading, or what new technology Apple was about to release, but then came a sort of uprising. I was witnessing a revolution.

These were the days of the infamous “Fail Whale.” Twitter was down and the natives were getting restless. The few tweets I saw actually come through were mostly complaints about their ruthless Twitter overloads. “Where did @replies go?” and “Why isn’t Twhirl working?” and “Can’t anybody do anything about this?” and “Will somebody PLEASE think of the children?!”

Just when things were looking the grimmest, new services began to pop up. Some began to move their discussions to FriendFeed, but that didn’t seem to work as a Twitter replacement. Others seemed to drop off the face of the planet, or at least the Web 2.0 planet. Others still stuck to their guns, pledging their allegiance to Twitter despite all its faults. Then, a new alternative emerged, Identi.ca.

Identi.ca billed itself as Twitter for the people; by the people, and quickly amassed an army of rebels set on taking down the evil, unreliable Twitter Empire. Among its strongest advocates were @JesseStay, @MarinaMartin, and @ThomAllen, and a majority of the small group of people I followed on Twitter. I decided to switch. My name is Luke after all, and Luke would never let himself be seen cavorting around with the supporters of the Empire. Not even Uncle Owen would do that.

In one month, I saw more activity and more of a community on Identi.ca than I ever had on Twitter. People were coding furiously, tapping into the new open-source API that Identi.ca offered. Bridges were built, new friendships were formed, manifestos were written, and new blogs emerged to welcome in the new recruits. Then, almost as quickly as it started, the revolution ended.

I came home from vacation and began to notice a lot of decreased activity on Identi.ca. Only one or two of the people I followed were posting regularly. I turned on my old Twitter account and there they were. The revolution had ended. The rebel army had lost. There would be no triumphant Ewok songs to welcome in the new era.

I learned a lot during my time on Identi.ca. I learned how to track certain terms. I learned how to find more interesting people to follow. I saw a lot of interesting conversations. Most importantly though, Identi.ca served as a sort of microcosm to the way this Web 2.0 world worked. There was a problem on the web, a shiny new service with lots of great features arose, and the masses followed like a swarm of hungry locusts. Then the old service, still much larger than the new one, fixed a lot of its problems, and the swarm came back home.

Since then, I’ve branched out a little on Twitter. I began to get my own followers and have my own little network of videographers, editors, and film geeks. I’m even following Dave Matthews (@DaveJMatthews) and Stefan Lessard (@SLessard) from the Dave Matthews Band (who are surprisingly active). My observations shifted somewhat to FriendFeed as I begin to utilize Twitter more and more, and I see the same sort of Identi.ca cycle on a much smaller scale almost daily. The Web 2.0 world finds some new product or feature, rushes out to play with it, review it, love it, or hate it, and then drops it completely as some other new product or feature is announced.

I remain a somewhat casual observer. I learned my lesson. In this strange new world, it’s better to wait out the flurry of hype that comes with the latest new web gadget to see if it actually takes root. If the locals drop it after a month or less, I don’t bother. Who knows, it may be the next Empire Strikes Back, or it may just be another Star Wars spin-off; a Star Wars Christmas Special in hiding.

I am such a geek

Why Do I See So Many Open Source Advocates Using Twitter?

opensource_logo.pngAs I am speaking, Utah is having their yearly Open Source conference. If you’re in Utah or outside Utah (most of my audience is outside Utah), it is well worth the trip with some great topics from ssh tips and tricks to WordPress Performance and Scalability by Utah’s own Joseph Scott from Automattic. I would be there myself but I have deadlines I have to meet this week (I have a big announcement to make next week which will explain my lack of time this week). However, as I was tracking the updates from the conference, I noticed there seem to be way more people updating from Twitter vs. the Open Source-based blogging tool, Identi.ca. In fact, I notice many Open Source proponents even outside Utah embracing Twitter over the Open Source-based Identi.ca and I wonder why.

Now, I wasn’t paying attention during OSCON so I don’t know if it was the same there, but I’m willing to bet there was a lot of activity going on within the Twitter network there that really should have been happening over on Identi.ca. I’m wondering if it’s just lack of education about Identi.ca, or if our views of the principles behind Open Source have changed.

I remember a day where in each company I worked for I would do all I could to try and get them to let me run Linux on my desktop. I still run vim and I still run open tools like Apache, MySQL, and Perl. In some (remember Red Hat 5?), I was making a sacrifice by doing so, because I knew I had complete flexibility to make the changes and configurations necessary to make it do what I wanted to do if it did not yet do it.

When I was an Engineer at Backcountry.com we thrived on this principle. It actually made us more productive as a company because when we used Open Source software, we could configure it the way we wanted when it wasn’t working the way we wanted it to as a company. This would have costed us hundreds of thousands of dollars in custom software changes if we used a shrink-wrapped solution. Not only that but we could give back to a great cause if it didn’t meet our needs, and in fact we gave back quite a few changes to the Open Source community because of this principle.

Now, if you are not one of those types that went out of your way to use open source software for the principle, and because of the reasons I mention above, then I’m not talking to you here. However, I’m calling each and every one of the Open Source advocates out that are on Twitter and have not yet tried, nor use Identi.ca on a regular basis. This is no different than running Linux on your desktop as in the examples I mentioned above. If Identi.ca is not working the way you want it to, as an Open Source Advocate and promoter, you have a responsibility to jump in and contribute the areas you don’t have access to. That’s the true spirit of Open Source, plain and simple! Here are the reasons why you can feel good using Identi.ca, or build your own Laconi.ca instance that can communicate with Identi.ca:

  • You own the content you post – All posts through a Laconi.ca instance are published under the Creative Commons license, meaning the publisher cannot own the content of its users. This is very much in the spirit of Open Source.
  • Identi.ca is based on open source software – as already mentioned, Identi.ca is based on the Laconi.ca source code. You can even set up your own instance and have it talk to other Laconi.ca instances. If you don’t like what Identi.ca does, then fix it, publish your own instance, or give back to Identi.ca!
  • Identi.ca talks with an Open Protocol, OpenMicroBlogging Protocol – Not only are you given source that talks this protocol, but you can write your own software that talks this protocol, and it will communicate with any other software that speaks this protocol. See my post on OpenMicroBlogger for an example of this in action. This is called “Federation”, and IMO it’s the essence of Open Standards and communication.
  • Identi.ca has almost all the same features as Twitter, and more – as I’ll explain in a minute, this probably doesn’t matter, but the only features it lacks are direct messaging and SMS. SMS is expensive, and most likely won’t last on even Twitter – it costs too much! Direct messaging can be resolved by means such as e-mail or text messaging in a much cleaner fashion, although there are rumors of some working on even that. What it has that Twitter doesn’t though, and this is powerful, is that all Laconi.ca instances support XMPP out of the box, which means live-streamed updates straight from users, in real-time. Not only that, but you can track those updates, as well as any update on any Laconi.ca instance via Track functionality. Also, via OMB protocol above, you can subscribe to users on other services other than Identi.ca, and vice versa.

Let’s not get me wrong here – I’m not telling you to abandon your network on Twitter. I’m saying if you support and promote Open Source standards and refuse to use an open service like Identi.ca that is based on Open standards, you are living a double standard. You can still use Twitter in the meantime. I still use Windows and Mac for functionality I don’t get on Linux until me or someone else is able to replace that functionality for something better. The concepts are the same. I still use Twitter occasionally.

Also, many are giving the excuse of, “my network is bigger on Twitter”. I’d first like to point you to my listening/follower ratio article on LouisGray.com as to how strong your network really is on Twitter, but in addition to that, let’s pull in the Linux example again. How many Linux desktops are there in the wild? How many Windows desktops are there? We use Open Source because it allows us to configure it to do what we need it to do, and often we can get the job done better because of that. We don’t care if the majority of the population is using another closed tool because we can do much more with the open tools we’re a part of.

I’d really like to see some more Open Source proponents using Identi.ca as their primary posting platform. If you would still like to use Twitter that’s fine – there’s a bridge to enable you to do that, but it’s time we stood to our principles and why we’re using Open Source in the first place. Please don’t consider this a criticism, but rather a Bearhug to come help us out in this cause.

You can find me on Identi.ca at http://identi.ca/jessestay.

With Threaded Replies, Do We Really Need the ‘@’?

at-sign.pngI broke news last night on LouisGray.com about Twitter enabling a new API feature, “in_reply_to_status_id”, to allow developers to tie replies to their original reply source. Immediately afterwards Evan Prodromou of Identi.ca added the same functionality to the Laconi.ca source code, making two of the most popular microblogging platforms, Twitter and Identi.ca, along with the already supporting FriendFeed, supportive of threaded comments. Immediately we saw Dave Winer implement a proof of concept example, and YooPlace also implemented it into their own code. Loic Le Meur of Seesmic, the owners of the Twhirl Twitter client responded as well saying he was reading the article and looking into it.

So a big question has become evident now that we can threaded replies. Is the ‘@’ really necessary in your replies to friends on your favorite microblogging service any more? A comment by Steve Gillmor on Identi.ca got me thinking about this earlier, and I think he has a strong point. In fact, I’ve briefly touched the subject before here.

The ‘@’ is mostly a Twitter-invented custom brought to the service by its users with some slight roots in bulletin boards and forums where threading was not possible. Users decided the Twitter service made a great communications tool and began replying to their friends’ posted statuses with the ‘@’ symbol. There was no other way because Twitter wasn’t expecting to be a communications tool. The popular Twitter clients like Twhirl and TweetDeck and even Twitter’s own web-based client started catching on, and separating those posts with usernames prepended by ‘@’ as “replies”. What’s odd is that the only thing they recognize as a reply is if the username is prepended by an ‘@’ – they take no thought as to the actual username itself, which really is the actual substance of who the user was replying to. In fact, FriendFeed users are starting to do this as well since it only has one level of threading and users can’t comment on other users’ comments. (Twitter and Identi.ca are actually one-upping Friendfeed with their recent announcements)

So while the “@”‘s were a custom, they really aren’t necessary to determine if a user is replying to another user. In fact, even today you can use an XMPP tracker like Twitter Spy and Laconica Spy and track your username and get notified when a person mentions your username, exactly the way “@” replies work. It was silly that the “@”‘s were required to be recognized as a reply in the first place.

Now, considering you can now actually track on the back end the entire hierarchy of a conversation via the API “@”‘s are even less necessary as before. I’d like to see the various microblogging clients start to ignore the “@”‘s and allow users to simply type usernames when replying to another individual, assuming threads aren’t in place. Then, once threads start to show in your favorite microblogging clients, even the usernames shouldn’t be necessary.

I’ve mentioned before that IRC works this way and most IRC clients will look at the existing list of users in a room and automatically detect the username and notify the targeted user if the message is directed at that user. Not only that, but the IRC clients actually keep a cached version of the users in a particular room and will even auto-complete usernames if you begin typing in the username and hit “tab”. That’s what I’d like to start seeing microblogging clients do so long as they’re going to be supporting a communications platform, and it should start with Twitter and Identi.ca themselves on their own web interfaces.

Then again, all this may now be moot with threading available. Oh, and don’t even get me started on hashtags. (Those should be handled by the API, not in the content of the message!) I think I’m going to try a new experiment of just not using the “@”‘s like Steve Gillmor does – anyone else want to join me?

Laconica’s Not the Only Cool Kid In Town – Introducing OpenMicroblogger

omb.gifThere’s a new kid in town in the microblogging space, and no it’s not just “another microblogging site”. I talked to Brian Hendrickson, the lead developer behind OpenMicroblogger.org and its accompanying service OpenMicroblogger.com today and he may just have something to scare both Twitter, and Evan Prodromou of Identi.ca in their tracks. What’s amazing about it all is Brian has actually taken the OpenMicroBlogging protocol that Evan established and implemented the protocol in Brian’s own, non-laconica-based implementation of the protocol that would communicate with any other OpenMicroblogging protocol supported site, similar to the way I mentioned on LouisGray earlier. Yes, OpenMicroblogger.com and the accompanying open source software it is based on will talk to Identi.ca, and on a completely different code base. That means you can follow anyone on Identi.ca within the OpenMicroblogger.com service and vice-versa, and they were written from the ground up by two entirely different developers!

What’s even more amazing about this new platform is that while not a WordPress implementation, Brian seems to have made the platform almost entirely compatible with the WordPress plugin and theme API. So, basically, if you are a WordPress developer, you can write your own extensions to the code, implement your own versions of the code, and write your own themes, all in the same way you do on WordPress. Brian wrote the code from the ground up using a framework he built and calls “dbscript”, and it contains no WordPress code whatsoever. He felt WordPress was too bulky to handle a full Microblogging platform (do I smell a potential acquisition by Automattic?). In fact, adding in integration with the OpenMicroBlogging Protocol was as simple as just adding a simple PHP plugin to his dbscript implementaion. The look and feel of OpenMicroblogger.com, his own implementation of the codebase, is all just an implementation of the WordPress Prologue theme that my friend Joseph Scott at Automattic wrote.

Picture 3.pngBrian tells me that while Laconi.ca‘s codebase is very good technology (he had very good things to say about Identi.ca, Evan, and the Laconi.ca codebase, especially when compared to Twitter), the technology underneath OpenMicroblogger and DBScript is even stronger and more scalable. According to him, “dbscript is an advanced ‘Restful’ framework with sophisticated features that are not found in the WordPress code base, it shares features with Ruby on Rails (ruby) and Django (python) — things like MVC, ActiveRecord, Routes, Content-Negotiation”. Because the underlying code is Restful, an API is almost inheritently provided for other developers to interact with your implementation of the code-base and write their own applications for it.

OpenMicroblogger and DBScript are based on an open source MIT license similar to the license Ruby is under. Brian says it took him just 8 weeks to write this advanced implementation, with other client projects going on at the same time and 2 kids, which shows how simple it is to implement the Openmicroblogging Protocol. It also shows his devotion to the work.

OpenMicroblogger.com, the service that shows off his code, has some really nice features (also available in the code) such as sharing links and pictures with friends – definitely a little more advanced than Identi.ca in that manner. He fully supports the OpenID standard (he actually wrote his own OpenID host using his framework!), and is very big on OAuth and other standards and open protocols so you can expect to see much more around that with the site.

This one simple and amazing example goes to show that we have only hit the tip of the iceberg here on microblogging technology. Now that a Protocol has been established, you will see more and more sites and developers write their own extensions of the protocol to implement their own creative microblogging solutions and layers. This very creative and innovative solution could just be a more advanced option than Laconi.ca to consider for Microbranded solutions in the future. Brian has taken “viral coding” to heart.

You can download the code, try out, learn more and help out the OpenMicroblogger.org project over at http://openmicroblogger.org. I’ve created an account at http://openmicroblogger.com/?jessestay, and you can actually just go there, follow me, and follow my OpenMicroBlogger.com updates right on Identi.ca! Or, you can go over and create an account for yourself.

UPDATE: Brian corrected me about it being more scalable than Laconi.ca (see the comments below) – according to him, “Actually Laconi.ca is the more robust code and is more scalable. dbscript is a meta-object framework and runs some extra queries to “learn” about the db schema — it is currently not very optimized for performance, but is geared towards being programmer-friendly.”