During a recent technology test involving twitter and rss, I gained insight into twitter's real value to my information universe.
For several months I have been working on Dave Winer's Blork system, which I describe as a Micro Blogging Tool and News Aggregator combined into one fluid experience. [screenshot of my Blork].
This combination has a very twitter-esque feel to it. I am 'following' feeds from other people and sources, which I can RT. In turn I can post messages and with a simple bookmarklet ala tumbler, can easily post links to my feed and followers of my feed with 2 mouse clicks.
Following a new feed is equally as simple, any webpage that has an rss feed only needs one click of the bookrmarklet to add to Blork's built in aggregator.
I have about 50 people on my system now, all our feeds are published publicly at noagendanewsnetwork.com
Under the hood of the Blork system, there's a lot of incredible functionality that I won't detail here, except for one of it's features, which is a bridge to twitter. I can designate any of my Blork feeds to post directly to my twitter account. On the receiving side, I've been subscribed to 4 rss feeds from twitter accounts I follow.
Although not apparent in the twitter interface, there is indeed a feed for each twitter account. I use a query for @adamcurry to follow any 'mentions' of me on twitter. I follow my daughter, my fiancee and the BreakingNews account.
These twitter accounts are valuable to me to have in my Blork, since I check my news sources at least twice an hour, and I know I will not miss any of those updates. They are even nicely grouped if any account updated more than once in a 10 minute timespan.
Although I follow over 800 accounts on twitter, many that I would lke to follow on rss, the task of finding each feed and adding it to my Blork was just too daughnting.
Imagine my delight when developer Andrew Shell joined our group with the first 'outside' app for Blork. A simple way to create an OPML subscriptions list of your twitter account!
His twitOPML app does this for three distinct category of users in twitter: 1) All the people you follow (in my case about 800), 2) All the people that follow you (in my case 25,000) and 3) Any of your twitter lists (I really only have one, which replicates the 4 accounts I mentioned earlier.
Instinctively I knew that following 25 thousand rss feeds of my followers would not be a good idea. There *are* limits to this stuff. So I gleefully logged in and added the url to the OPML for the accounts I follow to my Blork. In Blork this is as sinple as pasting the url into a box, the system does the rest of the work for the individual feeds contained in the OPML data.
After about 20 minutes the first aggregated tweets started to flow through my river of news in Blork. At first I was enamoured by seeing tweets mixed in with articles from other blogs and news sources I follow, but as the day progressed I became aware of a number of important observations:
-Twitter is more like IRC than Micro Blogging
-I get links to information that interest me from rss feeds sooner than they come through on twitter
Clarifying the my first two points, I like twitter as a real-time scrolling view of the world. The way I have been experiencing twitter for almost a year now is through a real-time command line client, TTYter [screenshot] that is always open on my desktop. Out of the corner of my eye I see 'stuff' when I want to (subliminally too I'm sure) and it sits right below my favourite IRC chatroom, where I hang out with my buddies. That is the stuff on going conversations are made of, the stuff IRC is really, really good at, and twitter more like a public IRC channel with too many 'nicks'
Signal to Noise Ratio is very low. Lotsa noise, little value. Mostly static whitenoise, but once in a while something I want to look at or respond to. Low on my value chain.
As for my last point, about receiving links from rss feeds sooner than on twitter, this is nothing short of logical, as in most cases, the information I'm interested in already has an rss feed I'm following and it will hit my Blork before it's propagated. Even the New York Times publishes their rss feed before they post to twitter.
So I was wrong in thinking that a decentralized system built around rss feeds would replicate what twitter actually is.
It does integrate nicely with the 5% of accounts I want to follow in Blork, as I can set up a twitter list with the handul of accounts that are truly valuable to me and I don't want to miss, and have those flow through Andrew's app straight into my system. Adding or removing from the twitter list is automatically reflected in Blork. That's really sweet integration!
I expect more 'walled' information sources will flow nicely into Blork in the future. Initially through a similar bridge, but eventually it will seep out through rss. Information has a funny way of finding the shortest and most reliable route to it's destination.
Blork now stands firmly at the center of my information universe. I receive the world in it on my terms, and broadcast out equally, all without the possibility of a company middleman throwing a failwhale at me, for rss is owned by no one.
If you are interested in setting up and running your own Blork system, it's easy enough that even a Poet can do it. Start here.