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.
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!
See you on identi.ca!