Why Twitter is popular and what I dislike about that

This article talks about Twitter but the points made here apply equally to Facebook.

There are two reasons Twitter took off like it did.  First, it fills a desire in the culture for ubiquitous notifications from everyone to everyone.  Second, it did so in a way that is immediately accessible and easy to use for anyone with a web browser.  I.e., real time simple peer-to-peer notifications that are both created and accessed via existing ubiquitous technology.

Twitter lets people create notifications and “follow” other peoples notifications.  And, it does that via the Web by letting people both write and view notifications in a browser.  It can’t get any simpler than that, can it?

Hence, a simple idea (real time notifications) combined with providing that via existing tools that everyone already has on their computers and cell phones.

Why do I say I don’t like that?  It’s not that I don’t like the idea.  And I commend the authors of Twitter for making the starkly simple realization that all this was both desired and so easily provided.  They will become very rich because of that realization combined with what I don’t like about the situation.  That is, the mechanism for providing Tweets is proprietary.

Although the mechanisms for writing and following Tweets are standards-based (standard message protocol, HTTP, and HTML basically), the creators of Twitter co-opted the concept of notifications by providing the mechanism via a branded web server.  And therein lies the rub.  Although web clients are free and ubiquitous, web servers are not.  Web servers and domain names are owned.  By co-opting the concept of ubiquitous notifications via a proprietary web server, Twitter has enriched a few people who happened to think of the idea first.  It’s not always this way.  For example, the Web itself, which arguably underpins all things Twitter-like, was developed by socialized programs (called science, academic research, and just plain good engineering) done by governments and government-funded research.  (One of many arguments I make that government is not bad as the Libertarian Fundamentalists like to believe).


Facebook is another example.  It is hard to make a Web site so Facebook made it easy.  A subject to another day, but you get the point.

Are there alternatives to these proprietary mechanisms?  Yes.  For example, RSS feeds provide a mechanism very similar to Tweets.  In fact, RSS feeds provide a richer mechanism.  And, RSS feeds are also built in or can be built in to browsers,although they are not anywhere near as accessible as Tweets.  Why?  The problem is that there is no central place to find all RSS feeds and there is no ubiquitous easily accessible place to write and distribute RSS feeds.  Generalizing slightly, we live in a culture where identity and mind share is still proprietary.  There is no standard freely available centralized place to create content for the Web.  Now, Google and others provide a central place to search for identity, but not to create it.  And Google itself is proprietary.  Think about it.  All Web servers are owned.  There is a reason for that.  Unlike the client (the web browser), the server (the web server) has to have lots and lots of memory.  Real memory.  And processors, lots of processors.  And that all costs money.

There are solutions.  We could distribute the notion of identity across a pool of volunteers who would provide resources for a large distributed server.  It would be public, non-proprietary, secure, and ultimately scalable to any size needed.  Alternatively, one or more governments could provide the central server.  In one of these ways, we would be able to provide a server side of the equation in a way that scales, does not require advertising or other revenue, is a shared resource, and achieves everything that the Twitters and Facebooks of the world achieve.  It would be a large non-proprietary sand box where equal numbers of ideas are tried out and what wins is, just as now, based on popularity and viral acquisition of mind share.

I am sure my idea is not new and has bugs.  But I wanted to get this off my mind.

1. My brother has a mental illness so is in jail

Chapter 1 in a series on mental illness.

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This is my first column.  I will dedicate this column to my brother Tony who was first diagnosed with a mental illness in 1986.  The saga of his life and how it has affected those close to him is a story I will tell.  I will tell it here in future columns.  Tony himself has written about his life and journey that has been so affected by an illness that most of the time he does not acknowledge as real.  His writing is creative, illuminating, and entertaining on many topics, including the illness.  With his permission I will share some of his writing here in future columns.

[Note: Elsewhere see excerpts of Tony Allard’s writing about his own mental illness .]

Much of the time, the illness does what can best be described as taking over the consciousness of my brother and running his life.  My brother deserves respect for the wonderful, caring creative human being he is while the illness deserves no respect.  The illness only deserves treatment and the only treatment that has allowed my brother to be himself and run his own life has been in the form of certain medicines.  Without those medicines, the illness takes over his life.  Anyone who objects to those medicines is not defending my brother’s right to a life but, rather, is defending the illness’ right to conquer and take over my brother’s life.  The illness is not my brother and my brother is not the illness.  The illness is like a computer virus that makes the computer screw up big time except this virus-like illness is a consciousness of its own, takes over people, and runs and ruins their lives.  It must be treated, with medicine when necessary.

My brother is allergic to the soap in the LA County “Twin Towers” jail so he buys some special soap from the jail store.  He had no money and already owed a friend in jail ten dollars so he needed the money by Thursday, the day he is allowed to buy things from the store.  Yesterday was already Wednesday.  Tony called me collect from jail, the only way he has to call me, reminding me that he needed the money.  I had been procrastinating a bit about getting out there to visit him, busy with my life and work out here in freedomsville.  But I’m one of my mentally ill brother’s few contacts in the outside world who is willing to help him out.  I decided to drive out to Twin Towers and deposit $200 into his account.

It is his money, since for over a year now he has been receving disablity income.  That was the one good stroke of luck he had in the past many years, getting qualified for that income.  Because beyond that little stroke of luck, having a condition most recently diagnosed as bipolar with schizoaffective disorder results in a long continuous string of events that might best be characterized as unlucky in a big way.

I manage Tony’s money for him when he is in jail.  When he is out of jail and sane, he manages it pretty well, being able to keep an apartment and maintain friendships.  Then, when he goes off his medication and has delusions and thinks he is an FBI Agent and that everyone is talking about him, he most often gambles away all of his money at Hollywood Park or one of the poker casinos in Gardena that still let him in.

One time, when sane, he took a class to become a poker dealer.  He did well in the class but then on the first live test day, he got nervous and froze up.  I won’t recount the bitter irony I felt when I heard he was striving to make a career working in those casinos where so much of his life has passed in what I view as a lonely existence.  He does not see it that way but then again he does not see most things the same you or I see them.

I stopped at an ATM up on Ocean Park Blvd near where I live to extract the two hundred dollars.  I put the money in my right front pocket instead of in my wallet.  I was going to a jail and I just assume that the chances of being mugged are  higher in that part of town so I keep my wallet and money in separate pockets for expeditions like this.  I had checked Google maps and saw a traffic jam on the 110 Harbor Freeway so I took the longer way around, taking the 10 to the 5 then off at Main Street and over to Vignes to get to the jail.

There was a parking place on the street right across from the jail so I snapped that up to avoid the seven dollar parking fee in the bunker-like parking structure and walked over to the IRC, the Inmate Reception Center.  I walked up what has become a familiar concrete stairway to the second floor cashier.  I filled out the slip with Tony’s official name and booking number and, after a short wait in line, handed over the two hundred dollars that would soon be in Tony’s account so he could buy his soap and whatever other small luxuries might help his stay in jail.

I didn’t take time to visit him since it was not a visiting day and, even if it were, visiting someone in jail is a very time consuming process.  That will be for another day and a future column.  I will also report on his progress in the court system on his recent felony charge of robbery, which occurred when he grabbed a woman’s purse, threw out the contents on the ground, and then walked away.  He faces a second felony conviction for that act and up to ten years in prison.  For not taking his meds.

[ story continued: http://oceanpark.com/blog/2009/08/my-mentally-ill-brother-is-scheduled-for-trial/ ]

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My zeroeth column.

I choose not to use the word ‘blog’.  I recognize it but choose not to use it in my spoken vocabulary.  It has that much kinship with the term ‘Homeland Security’ but for different reasons. The word ‘Homeland Security’ is one I loathe.  I do not loathe ‘blog’.  I just find it bit too cute and ultimately temporary. Hence, I refer to the content you will see here as a “column” to borrow the venerable term from the newspaper world and which is every bit if not more applicable to a computer screen as to old fashion newsprint.

This is not yet my first column, since I just installed the WordPress blogging engine and this is my trying that out.  My first column will appear here.  Just not today.