The trouble with twitter

Apparently there's a rule that every twitter user and blogger has to tell Twitter how to run their business, and now it's my turn.

OK, wind back a bit. Twitter is taking the world by storm; it's an excellent technology and has massive takeup; it may be a game-changer.

The bit that's (frankly) scaring everyone is that it has no income stream or business model. That raises the risk that it might Go Away™, and for large number of people who make serious use of it (or are building sites and businesses around it), that's an alarming possibility.

True, there are other services such as identi.ca, seesmic and brightkite, but none of these seem to have anything like the takeup. And I'm not sure that we can support a multi-provider environment as we have with instant messaging.

There are also two particular technical problems that bug people, and that they want fixed. One is the occasional downtime, and the other is the total lack of key-based or limited authentication in the API. The latter is that one that *really* bugs geeks; Twitter is perfectly placed to be the poster child for OAuth, but instead it's the king of the Password Antipattern - every site that wants to interact usefully with your twitter account has to ask for your username and password. This, frankly, sucks; any site can thereby easily hijack your twitter account and "spam" from it; and you can't de-auth one twitter-using site without de-authing the lot *and* having to re-auth all your twitter clients.

So, recommendation one: Let's have OAuth in Twitter. Free, please.

OK; we need money. Lots of money ideally. Ads aren't likely to go down well in a distributed messaging/ multicasting system. So we need to find an itch to scratch, something useful that's not essential (there's no point making basic accounts non-free, that'd kill the service) but would be Really Useful.

Various ideas spring to mind (which, frankly, the guys at Twitter have probably already thought of):

Paid "firehose" access - ie, access to *all* twitter posts. The problem here though is that's an astounding amount of data. Even if Twitter had the ability to send this data out to multiple source, most recipients simply wouldn't be able to receive it fast enough.

Increased feed calls: Every user is currently allowed 100 API calls per hour, which is plenty for basic users, slightly borderline for heavy users, and not nearly enough for "commercial" or professional use.

Customisable profile pages. At the moment, you can post a 160-character bio and set a background image. This has lead to some inventive solutions - even mine is quite decorative. There's capacity to improve this a bit, but how much, and whether people would really pay much for it, I'm not sure.

One thing I wouldn't ask for, though, is longer messages. Technical limitations aside, longer tweets wouldn't be the same thing; they'd be IM, email or blogs. In this case, twitter's limitation is its strength.

Premium service levels with increased uptime are also an idea that look better on first glance than on consideration. Improved service for some implies lesser service for others, and you have to be really careful with that.

I'm sure I had a couple more ideas. In the meantime, what are yours?
Posted by parsingphase, 2008-11-29 22:37

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