Twitter IRC

All this hype about Twitter.  If you haven’t seen it, well, Twitter is a site where you can post status updates on your life.  That’s it.

The only reason it’s interesting is that it’s reached a critical mass – but it’s so obviously *not* got staying power that I’m amazed so many people are so interested in it.  It’s fun to play with for a little while, but I seriously doubt people are going to keep posting their little life updates once the novelty wears off.

Dare also points out that the value of Twitter isn’t the software, it’s the fact that people you know are using it.  That’s the reason I’m not bothering to post into it:  Because I seriously doubt anyone I know will see anything I write, and I don’t think anyone cares enough about my life to want status updates like “on the highway, heading home” (except perhaps my wife, who will call me and poll for a status update if she needs one).

Long, long ago I used to hang out on IRC, and I can see a lot of similarities between IRC and Twitter – but IRC had some more meat to it that I think made it more valuable.

Idling on IRC was, basically, when you were leaving an IRC client going, but not actively participating.  You could flip to that window whenever you liked – when you got home, or got to work, or back from lunch, or while your software was compiling – and see what people were talking about.  If it was something interesting you could jump in, but much of the time it was idle.

If something interesting was happening, though, it was an easy place to jump to and say something.  The EFNet #ottawa channel I used to hang out on was full of friends who would chat about a wide variety of topics, but it was all completely ad-hoc.

And it had something that I still think is a key piece of any online community:  You could see who was there, right now.  BBS’s had this, back in the day, and today’s equivalent is, I think, the presence information in IM clients.  But IRC had it nailed.

IRC has faded.  Part of it was the introduction of firewalls – it became much more difficult to stay on IRC at work, and beyond the ability of some people to configure their clients at home – and part of it was that IRC had nobody backing it.  IRC is free, so there’s nobody out there evangelizing it, trying to build buzz for it.  But really, in my opinion, Twitter is IRC for today.

So when Dave Winer talks about making an open source Twitter, it’s not about whether we can implement the software again.. because there’s really no value in that.  It’s about whether we can connect these social networks.

I said years ago (I could probably look it up) that a varianet of the IRC protocol would be an awesome way to propagate RSS update notifications, and that Usenet would be a great way to propagate posts.  Well, IRC would be a great way to connect a network of Twitter-like sites.

The question that doesn’t have an answer is, of course, as always, who pays for it.  Who evangelizes it.  Twitter’s business model is getting you to use Twitter.  I don’t have an answer to that part, yet.