Why Twitter Should Worry about Seesmic’s Acquisition of Ping.FM
Earlier today, Seesmic announced the acquisition of Ping.FM, a service that allows folks to streamline updates to around fifty different social networks as easily as they update any one of their social networks.
Though Loic would probably deny it (because he’s one of the least confrontational people I know, and wouldn’t want to frame it in these terms), this is a direct assault on the sovereignty of Twitter as one of the defacto places to update your status message (or in terms that Twitter uses to describe itself, it’s a threat to their position as the “central nervous system of the world”).
I, like Dave Winer (and many others), have been uncomfortable for quite some time about the position of power that Twitter (and Facebook, for that matter) finds itself in. I enjoy all the benefits of Twitter, but the fact is that the service acts more like a utility-level service (like e-mail, newsgroups and the Web) than it does a site-level service (like Google, Flickr, Friendfeed or Blogs). That the “nervous system” of wired world should be in the hands of one company (one that has great difficulty keeping their servers running most of the time) should make all of us quite, well, nervous.
When the demise of Friendfeed was apparent, post-Facebook acquisition, I put out a wildly popular post that essentially said that given the product roadmap for WordPress and third party clients like Tweetdeck and Seesmic, we could see control of the real time web wrested from Twitter’s control and handed over to the people.
The road from here to there looks like this:
1) As Twitter, Facebook and other services mature, usage of these services migrate from the websites to the third party clients using their APIs.
2) The third party client’s parent companies tire of being tied to the whims of the companies who own the APIs they use. You can see this in Tweetdeck’s strategy, as they build out a backplane of their own that can augment Twitter connectivity whenever the main site goes down.
3) Some open source alternative rises to the occasion. There are a couple of roads to Rome on this: StatusNet is maturing and looking like a decent alternative to Twitter, but for the lack of usage. WordPress has the userbase, but still lacks critical features in their Buddypress plugins to completely mimic the usage of a service like Twitter or Facebook.
The Ping.FM purchase is one more move to diversify the usage of Seesmic users, so that the client’s fate isn’t tied to any single service. Ping.FM has the ability, already, to update to StatutsNET, and could theoretically update to WordPress as well. Whenever the activity streams functionality is built out on Buddypress (and federation is finally implemented), we could be looking at a much better alternative to the Internet’s nervous system than what we currently have in Twitter.
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