Killing Twitter Before It Can hurt Us

This weekend there has been a fair amount of talk about the idea that Twitter is too important to be relied on as a centralized, non fault-tolerant platform. Both Dave Winer and Michael Arrington at TechCrunch are talking about the problem and how to fix it. The argument is that Twitter is not distributed. This means that if Twitter goes down no one can Twitter. It also means if Twitter goes out of business, or just screws up, we could lose all of our tweet history.

The idea being posited is to make a parallel open source run “twittersphere” that supports the Twitter API — lets call it Twitshadow. Twitshadow is built to be a shadow of Twitter that all third party apps can use. The shadow could even be *the* way to talk to Twitter by implementing what would essentially be something like a write-through cache. Third party apps write to Twitshadow, and Twitshadow writes to Twitter. Or it could just be a second call that all third party apps make along with writting directly to Twitter. When Twitter goes down, this open source non-centralized Twitshadow keeps on chugging. And the more time that passes, the less important Twitter actually becomes because most of your data is in Twitshadow. In fact Twitshadow could even support sucking in tweets from Twitter so it could be a full replacement of Twitter, history and all.

This whole conversation is fascinating to me.

It is entirely possible that before Twitter makes its first penny, it will become too important to exist in its current form, and the community will feel it has to be replaced by an open source distributed framework. This should strike fear into the hearts of anyone who decides open their API. While the Open API strategy has clearly worked in terms of adoption, it may have worked too well. In fact it may have worked so well that Twitter may be killed before it has even really made it out of the womb, by people that find it so important that they can’t afford to really have it be a company.

Technically, Twitter is ripe for destruction by open sourcers. It is a super simple API. It is loved by lots of really smart people that definitely have the intellect, the means, and the motivation to create Twitshadow. In fact open source will tend to be far more effective a development model for something like Twitter than closed source, in large part because a proper solution to this is a very pure computer science problem. This means the open source community will almost certainly be more clever about the solution that one tiny closed source company because there will be lots of heads focused on an easy to understand problem.

The lesson from all of this may be that communications apps can’t live without an open API, But they can’t live with them either. Of course I have been skeptical that any communication app can make money, and particularly Twitter, but I could not envision that they would and could be undermined as a platform like this. It is truly astonishing to watch.