Thoughts on Twitter #12: Twitter vs. the Crazy Uncles


[Part of the RexBlog “Thoughts on Twitter” series.]

From Alex Payne, one of the few employees of Twitter who has left the company, comes this very interesting quote:

A large part of the reason I left Twitter was a fundamental philosophical difference that I couldn’t reconcile, either for myself or the company. I believe that Twitter as a medium is and should be distinct from Twitter as a business. Put another way, that’s there’s an important difference between lowercase “t” tweeting and uppercase “T” Twitter, just as with democrat and Democrat.

This is not a new sentiment. Others have expressed it for years, in calls for a decentralized Twitter and attempts to build just that. For a time, I dismissed those missives as faxes from the crazy uncle lunatic fringe of the Internet technology community: the standardsistas, the neckbeards, the open sorcerers, the people who believe that all things must be free and open regardless of context. I came to the conclusion on a different path, but I came to it nonetheless.

I’m not sure which group I fall into (while I like the “crazy uncle lunatic fringe” tribe, I’m not sure they’d let a member of the Rotary Club in), however, my posts (here and here) about Twitter being too big to fail were precisely about the topic Payne is writing about.

It’s refreshing to know — and provides me some hope — that such an internal debate has even taken place within Twitter. As I said in those earlier posts, I’m all for Twitter, the business, growing as big as it can — go ahead and steamroll everything in your path, for all I care.

But Twitter, the medium (as in communication medium equivalent to e-mail, instant-messaging, the telephone), is another story. If it continues to be “owned” by one company, it’s on a collision course with the brickwall destiny all such monopolies hit one day.

Who knows? Perhaps, the new version of the Twitter website may indicate that the “business” of Twitter will compete for dominance in the way people use Twitter, the service. Perhaps it indicates the company’s willingness to consider a future in which things like life-and-death emergency alert services that use Twitter have a means to function, even if Twitter’s servers crash.

I hope that’s true, or I predict that one day, people will actually wake up and start listening to what the crazy uncles are saying.