What Would a More Open Twitter Look Like?

As Twitter struggles with repeated outages on the network (which, to its credit, the company has been very transparent about), some are asking whether it isn’t unwise to rely on a single company for a communications platform that has become such an integral part of so many people’s lives. So what would a more open version of Twitter — or a world that relied less on it as a single point of contact — look like?

It might look something like the idea proposed by Dave Winer, inventor of the RSS standard. He’s written often about the idea of “a decentralized Twitter” and how he’d like to see someone develop a Twitter app based on open-source standards, which he compared to the Apache open-source server software that lies behind a majority of the websites on the Internet. More recently, he’s talked about how developers of Twitter clients — whether they be apps, or services such as WordPress (see disclosure below) or Tumblr — could build an “emergency broadcast system” that would function even when Twitter is down.

Distributed Twitter Model Proposed by Dave Winer. Image courtesy Dave Winer

Here’s how such a system could work: Clients such as Tweetdeck, Seesmic and Brizzly would communicate through the Twitter API (application programming interface) just the same way they do now, but when the network goes down, they would store tweets — either on their own servers or at some neutral location — and each client would be able to get updates from the others. When Twitter comes back up, the tweets get sent to the network as usual, along with a record of what was tweeted while Twitter was offline, so they can push out an updated activity stream. All this takes is co-ordination among the various developers of Twitter clients and a standard to work around.

Part of that standard could involve Montreal-based developer Adrian Evan Promodrou’s Prodromou’s Status.net, which is similar to the blogging software company WordPress. It provides Twitter-style microblogging software that can be run on a server by any user or company, but also has a hosted version with additional features. Promodrou has also developed an open standard designed to enable communication between microblogging clients called OStatus, which the company says is based on other publishing standards such as PubSubHubbub, WebFinger and Salmon.

Howard Lindzon, CEO of the investing-related service StockTwits (see disclosure below), says he and his co-founder Soren Macbeth see a future in which there are multiple versions of Twitter. Stocktwits pulls information from Twitter and also pushes information into it, Lindzon said, adding that if Twitter were to go away tomorrow, “I would miss the musings of a few hundred people that I follow, but so many companies would step up fast and a new leader would quickly emerge.”

Whether Twitter likes it or not, the service’s continuing network issues — as well as its growing dominance in the marketplace for real-time communication — makes it likely that more StockTwits and Status.nets will emerge. And that is as it should be. If the company is smart, it will do what it can to become the engine that helps to power these different ventures, or at least plays nicely with them, rather than seeing them as competition and trying to shut them down or block them off.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user watchsmart

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Lessons From Twitter: How to Play Nice With Ecosystem Partners

Disclosure: Automattic (maker of WordPress.com) and StockTwits are both backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

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