UPDATED 09:30 EDT / AUGUST 11 2009

Could Wordpress Be the Natural Successor to Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook?

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I say ‘quite possibly so’ – though it’ll be a long road to get there. I say we’re headed towards a Federated real-time web, and WordPress looks like it could be best positioned to take the helm of that ship.

Friendfeed (and their acquisition by Facebook) has been the topic of conversation here at SiliconANGLE as well as much of the blogosphere yesterday and today.  I don’t doubt that this will continue for a while.  Louis Gray probably best captured the emotional aspect for most of us early adopters who were on the system chatting away with the immediate family of the founders when it was just us:

Here’s the thing. FriendFeed is the good girl. FriendFeed is the one that has a 4.0 GPA and had big dreams of an Ivy League diploma. And yet, she ends up with you – the Silicon Valley equivalent of your local state school. When you come rolling in with your heavy car, big wheels and pumping bass, we don’t care how much money you say you’re worth – we still don’t trust your grin when you open the door and say "hop in".

The more I examine my thoughts and feelings on this, the more I keep coming back to one startling truth: I agree with Dave Winer.

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We Need a Federated Real Time Web

I’m tired of constantly re-entering all of my information and accounts into services I start to care about, evangelize for, and enjoy only to have them radically changed either by cultural shifts, sales, closures or policy changes.  I’ve gone from network to network over the last half a decade or so, and with increasing frequency, I’ve left not because I’ve outgrown a service, but because it’s left me in the dust.

I shifted my focus away from Twitter when Friendfeed showed real promise, and Twitter lacked stability and reliability. I left MySpace for Facebook when the only messages I received there were either from irate ex-girlfriends and spammers posting as porn stars. I ditched Facebook as a focus a number of times over the years, usually due to massive mangling of the UI, or their ill-advised attempts to montetize.

Every time any of these things have happened, it’s usually been a part of a larger movement of users away from these services.  Sometimes I was leading the charge and sometimes I was following the crowd.  The responses by these companies was always the same: “Come back! We’re more open now!”

When they say open, they mean to capitalize on the definition web geeks like Dave Winer established for the term, meaning that you can own your social graph and your data, or at least take it in and out of the system at will. 

It never means that, though, or at least very rarely.  It means, generally, that they’ve launched an API for developers, or that they’ve allowed you easier access to the delete button on the account, or some other feature or set of features that can be slowly buried in menus over time as the public outcry dies out.

The Upside: I Think We’re Going To Get a Federated Public Timeline (Like It or Not).

One of the theories I’ve been operating under for quite a while now is that Twitter is the backbone of “the public timeline” as we now know it.  That, of course, could theoretically change if Facebook or Google stepped up to the plate in their respective forays into RTW, but as it now stands, Twitter is the current king of that hill.

Twitter is slowly evolving into a protocol, and less of a conversational tool.  You can see it with the slow creep into your timeline of urls, #hashtags, location tags, @replies, and all manner of add on services.  Everything is abbreviated, shortened, hyperlinked and otherwise made smaller to fit into the limitation that is 140 characters. It is to the point where you almost need a third party client just to make any sense of it.

This trend will not abate, and for the record, I think it’s a good thing. But the good times of forward and steady progress towards a fully Matrixed web will not last forever, at least not solely on Twitter.

The same thing that has bitten us Friendfeeders on the butt this week will eventually happen to us all on Twitter: they’ll sell out, strip down, screw up, or otherwise anger almost all of us with a major change to the service, and render it unusable.

It’s a virtual certainty.  User revolts happen regularly on Facebook and Digg.  They’ve happened a few times on Twitter and Friendfeed.  At one point or another, the ‘big one’ will hit, and it’ll be over for most of us.

The developer community around Twitter is starting to realize this already.  Jesse Stay, one of the most vocal individuals in the Twitter developer community, said as much on Facebook tonight.

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When Facebook is being held up as a standard of stability and trust, you know your developer community is troubled.

How Will Federation of the Twitterstream Occur?

I see two potential paths towards federation trending right now (and one of them isn’t Laconica/Identica, though it may play a part).

Third party clients: The most popular way to access Twitter isn’t through the web interface – only 27% of Twitter users back in April chose to interact with it that way. Clients like Seesmic and Tweetdeck wield an unruly amount of influence. Many of the third party clients also support other social networking platforms like Facebook.

These clients sit in the enviable position, or at least might soon sit there, of determining exactly what it is that most real time web users get to interact with. Seesmic, Tweetdeck and the top three or four iPhone Twitter clients could form a consortium and suddenly mirror everything that takes place on Twitter to a third party or federated platform – in essence deprecating Twitter and Facebook in one fell swoop.

WordPress: What might they syndicate to?  WordPress offers an attractive alternative.  There are dozens of lifestreaming platforms emerging, and everyone seems ready to dub sites like Tumblr or Posterous as the natural successors to Friendfeed.

They might be, in the interim, but they have the same potential to fall by the wayside that Friendfeed and Twitter have.  WordPress, on the other hand, is a widely supported and completely open source tool.  Neophytes and true codehackers alike love it.

They’ve not completely ignored lifestreaming, either.  Mark Krynsky has noted a number of great themes and plugins for the purposes of lifestreaming built for WordPress over at Lifestream Blog.

In working with WordPress MU and Buddypress as I have over the last several weeks, I’ve noticed a few key things:

  • Federated activity streams are on the product roadmap for Buddypress. This is huge, because BP allows all WPMU users (and soon to be all WP users) to set up their own niche social network around their blogging community. 
  • WordPress has a number of great themes built for real time interaction.  We use one of them here at SiliconANGLE for our editorial backchannel (/sabackchan).
  • Data can already be easily imported and exported a number of ways with WordPress.

These paths may converge as soon as six months down the road, or perhaps as much as a couple of years.

WordPress, though, has been around and proven stable as a platform through it’s widespread and decentralized support.  It could be those very same attributes that have given it success as a CMS that end up winning it the keys to the real-time kingdom.


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