Musings on Twitter and Identi.ca [en]

Ever since the #fixreplies debacle, I have been distancing myself from Twitter a little. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still enthusiastic about Twitter, encourage people to join, and hope that new people I meet have an account there. But I’m slowly moving my eggs out of my one single Twitter-basket and starting to use identi.ca.

For those who missed it, the #fixreplies thing happened earlier this year. Twitter suddenly and unilaterally changed the way one viewed @reply updates sent by people one was following. Previously, there was a setting of sorts allowing you to control if you wanted to see @reply messages only when they were addressed to a person you were also following (the default), or if you wanted to see all of them (that’s the way it worked before Twitter “implemented” @replies, by the way, when it was just a user hack), or if you just do not want to see @replies (probably because you believe that “Twitter isn’t IM” or something).

Over the previous year, Twitter contended that the @replies setting was confusing (I think it was, but more because it was poorly worded than because the functionality itself was confusing), determined that for some obscure technical reason (we still don’t know which one, to the best of my knowledge) that the setting had to go, and noting that a full 98% of people were using the default setting anyway, they simply scrapped it.

Followed a huge uproar, lots of lamenting (by myself included), requests for Twitter to change things back the way they were — to no avail. Twitter apologized for the poor communication around the issue, told us they couldn’t keep the setting because the technical cost was too high, and basically suggested that they would offer grieving fans of that setting other exciting options to discover new users.

Only, it’s not just about discovering new users. It’s as simple as wanting to see all the tweets of people I follow, not just those Twitter considers relevant. In this case, they happen to consider that partial conversations are irrelevant. They’re relevant to me because they’re part of the lives of the people I follow (discovery of new users is just a really fun and valuable by-product of that).

So, enough of this already. The point here is that Twitter decides something, and Twitter does it. We are in a benevolent dictatorship position here, as we are for many of the tools we use online everyday. It’s a risk we take and I’m generally happy to — but when the benevolent dictator of a tool I rely upon as a backbone of my online life starts making changes that upset me, I start looking around.

Enter open source, interoperable standards, etc.

Identi.ca is an “open source version of Twitter”, one could say (the engine running it is called Laconica) — it basically works the same way and has the same features (at first view in any case). Contrarily to the vague of Twitter rip-offs or clones we started seeing all over the place, the important thing to note is that this project is open source. I know I’m not an open source expert and I happily mix up things that are important distinctions for people who are more involved in the “scene” than I am, but here’s what it means for me, as an end user (fellow geeks, correct me if I’m saying silly things here):

  • people can contribute to the code
  • people can take the code in another direction if they’re not happy with what the main development group is happy
  • who knows, maybe some kind of plugin architecture will be implemented (this is a wild guess of mine)
  • it’s based on an open, interoperable standard
  • think “GTalk vs. MSN”

There are of course certainly a full pile of other advantages to Laconica (the fact that it’s decentralized for example) but I’ll stop there.

The big problem, of course, is the people. Most people are on Twitter. Today, I’m following 567 people and am followed by 2481 on Twitter. On identi.ca, despite my best efforts, I’ve reached the staggering figures of 95 (followees) and 127 (followers).

So, should one “move” to identi.ca?

The answer is yes, and “move” is a bit of a dramatic word here.

Identi.ca acts as a Twitter client, which means that all to notices you send through identi.ca are automatically sent to Twitter too, and you can subscribe to your Twitter stream in identi.ca. You can in fact start using identi.ca without abandoning Twitter.

Twitter settings - Identi.ca

The best way to do this is to register the same username on identi.ca as you are using on Twitter (I’m @stephtara on both, here is my account on Twitter and my account on identi.ca). Head over to the Twitter settings tab to connect your accounts. Identi.ca will help you add people you know on both services.

Of course, there are caveats:

  • identi.ca is not your favourite Twitter client (if you’re using something like Tweetdeck, Seesmic Desktop, Twitterrific, Tweetie, etc.) — I’m personally waiting for identi.ca support in Seesmic Desktop and Tweetie on the iPhone
  • the site will sometimes throw errors at you (but on the other hand, Twitter is regularly down, isn’t it?)
  • “Twitter” and “tweet” are really the better names
  • it’s a tad more work than just continuing to use Twitter, but remember, you’re in the process of moving your eggs out of the proverbial basket.

I’m personally pretty happy with identi.ca, and like the way it seems in active development (Twitter is too, but it’s a mammoth now that Oprah‘s been there).

I’m all the more happy now that I’ve read that Twitter plans to implement support for retweets, and that it seems this will happen by removing the “RT @whoever:” intro from the beginning of the tweet, and add that information in a small byline after the tweet. My semi-automatic screening of retweets from compulsive retweeters will be a thing of the past!

So, if you haven’t done it yet, go and claim your username on identi.ca (you can use OpenID), follow me there, and nag me to follow you if I’m not but I am following you on Twitter.

See you on identi.ca!

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Would You Say India is Behind the West? [en]

As much as I would like to be able to say that cultures are not to be hierarchically classified, and that they are all equal, but different, my experience of India has somewhat disturbed this position. Let me explain.

Of course cultures are different, and there are probably few cultures more different from mine than the Indian one. But India is importing, or let’s say: absorbing, a lot of western culture.

Even though India will remain India, and people there do not want to lose their culture, there is an attraction to the West and an inclination to imitate it.

I think these streaks of western culture can allow a comparison – although I am of course aware that what I am saying here is disputable.

  • Take birth control and sexual education: India is way behind.
  • Take ecological awareness: India is way behind.
  • Health facilities: behind.
  • Quality of education: behind.
  • Social services: behind.

That doesn’t mean to say India is “bad”. I really love India. I think lots of positive things about this country. But it has some really horrible sides for me.

  • I find it dreadful to see people breaking rocks under the scorching sun on a heavy traffic road (convicts work). I find it even more dreadful to hear people saying “but then what work would these poor people do?” when you ask why machines couldn’t do the work.
  • I was horrified to learn that small children are maimed so that they will be more efficient “employees” in the begging-business (that was confirmed to me by a family member who has been counsellor in human rights for many years in NGOs).
  • I find it unacceptable that many people do not have access to education, and that even for those who do, schooling is so often bad – especially for those who do not have the money to bribe themselves into the best schools.

Worst of all – it is in my opinion the root of all the “problems” in India, and in any case, preventing any revision of the system in place: corruption. Corruption is everywhere, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder. Your speeding ticket is Rs 100? No problem, give 50, don’t ask for a receipt, and everybody is happy. It is almost official.

Some will say it is part of the system, that you cannot get rid of it, that it is necessary in Indian culture. I don’t care. Of course, policemen take bribes because they are not paid enough. So do all the clerks and small officials. But somewhere, up higher on the ladder, some people are making very big bucks out of the system, while there is no staff in the hospitals, no money for schools, holes in the roads and droughts in Gujurat. That is wrong.

Linked to the corruption problem, there is the screaming lack of law enforcement. I have been told that the Indian constitution is quite a good one – but what is the use of laws if nobody respects them? And that is what the situation is in India.

Of course, there are horrible things in the West too. And there are beautiful things in India. The picture above is not meant to be complete – it is a list of dark sides.

I am probably also reacting to the Myth of India you find in the West. Most people who “love India” in my country have never been there and shrink back in horror when I describe what everyday life there was like for me. And I had a rather cosy home, I would say.

People tend to emphasise only the “spiritual” side of India. I am not talking about that here, you will have noticed – although it is what I am studying. In short, I don’t think people in modern India are more spiritual than here. But that is another chapter.

I love India, but I have been there, and I am critical. I can be critical with my own country too, of course – but that isn’t what I’m doing here : )

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