A history on the RSS Cloud inception and implementation can be read at rsscloud.org. Another one of those great bits of infrastructure technology that gets created, and then sits for years without catching on. In this case, it’s also a brilliantly simple change on the publishers side of just adding a trivial <cloud> tag to the RSS feed’s XML, and voila, the feed is "Cloud Enabled".
I’m surmising the reason this caught on was the word "Cloud", but what seems to have kickstarted it in the last 2 days was WordPress announcing all their blogs were now RSS Cloud enabled. A really trivial change for them, but one that immediately made the blogs now realtime.
This was followed by CNN publishing a couple feeds with the new tag, and I predict a host of other people soon, since it’s a hot topic, and the change is so minor and simple. I even "cloud enabled" my blogs by simply adding a plugin to wordpress.
There’s also a very exciting fallout from this technology, that Dave Winer (his company invented the RSS Cloud concept) first hinted at, and now is making fairly clear. That’s actually what has me quite interested in it.
My twitter rant
I was a big fan of Twitter. Not because of what it did, it was a terribly simple concept, rather poorly implemented. Not that the poor implementation is surprising, it’s the cornerstone of today’s "new web app". Slap something together, get it out there, something working is far more important than scalability. There were other microblogging platforms like Jaiku, that had more functionality and were arguably as simple, but they didn’t catch on. If your friends weren’t there, the functionality didn’t really matter. If the twitter folk had waited until they got their concept fully functional and scalable, they never would have become "the big thing". identi.ca is functionally equivalent to twitter, but most of my friends aren’t there, so although I publish to it, it’s not my main tool.
But, like many big things, the big challenge is how to grow and scale once you’re "it". There, twitter dropped the ball. Not just the very long period of being unable to even stay up, but in not actually growing along with it’s users at the rate they changed. It tried, users created the "@reply" concept of conversations, twitter didn’t, the userbase needed a way to have conversations, twitter was too simplistic to provide that ability, so users created their own hack. 3rd party tools soon supported the concept, but it would be a very long time before Twitter itself recognized and supported it. The entire concept of conversations within the stream is what made it interesting to me, and kept my interest (and gained me many new real-world friends). Think about it, how quickly does twitter change and adapt? How often do they add a new feature or enhance functionality in a subtle but game-changing way?
Twitter also chose to simply go it’s own way, rather than adapt the system to how users wanted to use it. They changed the entire system by removing the ability to see replies of people you don’t also follow, claiming their architecture couldn’t support it. I think that’s a crock, and if it is the architecture, it needs to be fixed, rather than removing the functionality. I can get around the limitation by simply not using "@" as the first character of a tweet. In fact, the ".@reply" is the communities home grown work around. @TheKevinSmith just did a 24hour tweet-a-thon, he used "Via" as the first part of his replies to get around the sillyness. However, they were changing the system to meet how they saw the majority of people using it. Now twitter also has a retention problem, so a great question is, what number of retained users are using features in what way. I don’t believe the folks at twitter have the advanced statistical gathering functionality to derive that, nor do I think it’s of particular interest. They’re going to "go with the growth", and leave their traditional user-base behind. And that’s as it should be, companies grow and change, and twitter’s no exception.
Really my point here is, it’s become time for many of us to move on, we need to adopt other as-yet-to-be-created platforms, without loosing our twitter connections.
There are many other failings of twitter as the place to put all your eggs. There’s no history, to speak of. You can only get your last couple thousand tweets. When I was in Europe last year, I tweeted every place I went. Later in the year, when I went to grab all that information? Gone. I learned then that twitter’s fine for the last day’s worth of information, but it is temporary and fleeting. That’s fine, as long as you realize that’s what your getting, and don’t try to use it as a general purpose information storage tool, like I did. That’s not twitter’s fault, it was mine for trying to use twitter for something it was not.
There’s no way to look at or organize conversations. Oh, you say, there are #hashtags. Yes, another user-created way of hacking around Twitter’s lack of conversations. Remember those? Yeah, what made the whole thing interesting to me to begin with. If that concept isn’t supported as a core concept to the platform, it probably isn’t the right platform to use for it.
Speaking of celebrities, their descending on twitter was the sign of the end of it’s being useful to me, in the long run. @ev and @biz don’t use twitter like the primary initial user base did. They have always had a lot of followers, but followed very few, and didn’t engage in conversations. However, the influx of celebrities, and people with a million followers now means the majority of twitter users are Observers not Participants.
That is the crux of my argument. When a system that gained interest because it was participatory turns into a system where the majority observe the minority who generate anything of interest, it’s mostly of interest to those who like to promote, not interact. That’s something @ev and @biz can understand, it’s how they use twitter, it’s how twitter became a household word, and is now why millions of people join.
So, that’s what twitter will become. What of the rest of us who have a hundred or two hundred people we like to actually interact with? Well, we’ll have to wait for the next thing that makes that easy. That’s difficult to do, when a single company, and one who now has no interest or need to be interested in how you want to do things, gains a monopoly.
Back to the cloud
Which brings us back to the RSS Cloud. Using this, Dave has pointed out that real-time updates, of information, be it blogs, microblogs, news feeds, celebrity announcements, or what you’re having for breakfast, can exist without Twitter being in the middle. Twitter can/will still exist, it’ll be another feed into the cloud, but as soon as "twitter clients" start becoming "cloud clients", you won’t need to depend on twitter for all that information.
Following CNN on twitter? You can follow them here instead. A Cloud RSS, real time feed from CNN. So, Cloud Readers will be Cloud RSS aggregators, showing you multiple sources of interest in real time. The trick will be, as always, making the subscribing easier than RSS. If some clients can solve that problem, we will have a system in which twitter will simply be one form of real-time information. That’ll make Google happy, given their purchase of Jaiku and FriendFeed, they’re obviously interested in the microblogging/real time/searchable world.
This is very exciting. The total tip of the iceberg, I think. The beginning of a move away from twitter defining how microblogging is done, and how you need to participate to something new and different. That’s great for twitter, actually. They can become THE celebrity broadcast channel where a small number of famous people talk about their breakfast, and millions of fans now feel even closer to those celebrities without having to actually stalk them.
The rest of us will have options on where to have our online conversations we don’t mind sharing with everyone else, since sharing with everyone else was how we found other kindred spirits, and made new friends.
At least that’s my optimistic prediction, we’re heading into new and better ways to connect to people, by having open methods of sharing real-time information.