Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Many Microblogging Services Does the World Really Need?

After hearing all this news about status.net, I took a few moments to connect my Identi.ca account with my Twitter account. I am not at all sure what good that did but I figured it couldn't hurt. While I was there, I got to thinking what is so special about a microblog? And I came to the conclusion — nothing. You can think of a microblog as a title-only blog (entries with no bodies). What is new there? Subscriptions have already been handled quite well by RSS. What makes Twitter (and Facebook) so important is not the ability to post 140 character messages. It's not even really the API or mobile integration. What makes Twitter/Facebook important is that they are used by so many of the people that you want to reach. There are plenty of failed status-oriented services that have had the technology but, either through bad timing or other missteps, failed to build an audience.

I wonder how attempts at internal microblogs are working out. I haven't heard any success stories and I doubt if any survive past the initial novelty phase. If there are urges to microblog within the enterprise, employees could satisfy them with the internal blogging infrastructure that has been idle in most organizations. If there is any internal application for the microblog it is aggregating what employees are tweeting out on Twitter. But, depending on the staff, I don't know how interesting that would be either.

I think that the microblog is going to fail as a category of software. There just isn't a big enough market of buyers that can build a sustainable microblogging community. I can't think of existing sites with large audiences investing to buy or build a microblogging capability. If you were CNN, would you rather have a reader tweet a story link on Twitter (where it could be re-tweeted by millions of users) or on your CNN own microblog community? The only purpose I see for status.net is just in case Twitter kills itself (by running out of money or ruining the service). I seem to remember a lot of people threatening to defect to Identi.ca and FriendFeed when Twitter was going through its problems. But that didn't happen. How long can the status.net's and Identi.ca's of the world sustain the energy and motivation to be an understudy behind a healthy actor?

I know the argument that suggests that distributed communication services will eventually win like how the open, distributed web was destined to eventually beat out then popular online services like AOL, Compuserve, and Prodigy. But I don't think this is the same. If I am missing the point here, please enlighten me. I would love to see competition in this sector if it makes sense. I just don't see it.