Microblogging—and more specifically, Twitter—has become an important channel of communication and content for knowledge workers, particularly in the area of journalism. However, Twitter is a limited, fragile, proprietary closed system. Free alternatives such as identi.ca use an open system, the OpenMicroBlogging protocol, that could be built into a decentralized, interoperable network of microblogging services. Wikimedia should provide a microblogging service for contributors, as a way to move toward a stronger and more open information ecosystem.
Host a microblogging service by adapting the free software Laconica so that it could be embedded in MediaWiki. Make the service available to autoconfirmed editors, and give administrators the ability to block abusive accounts.
The microblogging concept of Twitter has proved to be a very flexible system. While most of the content is idle chatter, it has proven its usefulness in several areas that are relevant to the WMF's mission of making knowledge available, particularly in the areas of relaying and collecting observations from important large-scale events, reporting and discussing news, and disseminating news.
Even idle chatter (phatic communication) serves a useful purpose in creating a richer and more inviting community social environment on Wikimedia projects. At present, deeply involved Wikimedians use outside communication channels that are difficult for the uninitiated to access (e.g., IRC, Skype, Twitter) to serve the necessary purposes of chitchat and relationship maintenance.
However, Twitter has major shortcomings and many who praise the potential of microblogging also criticize its current, Twitter-dominated reality. Among the problems with Twitter:
- It's not an open system. Older content is inaccessible and unsearchable.
- It's a for-profit company without a business model, so it's not certain it will be around long-term.
- It is centralized and therefore vulnerable to being crippled by DDoS attacks (as happened in the August 2009 Cyxymu incident)
Becoming part of a network of interoperable microblogging services would help to promote a better alternative, and take advantage of a pre-existing community (Wikimedia contributors) to promote good microblogging practices.
- Would more and better communication channels strengthen the Wikimedia community and improve its social atmosphere (and make it a more inviting place for newcomers)?
- Would microblogging be useful for the news/journalism aspects of Wikimedia projects?
- Development time. Could probably be accomplished by a volunteer developer.
- Note that Brion already contributes occasional patches to laconi.ca himself!
- Hardware and bandwidth. Probably fairly low, if accounts are limited to contributors to other WMF projects.
- Farhad Manjoo, "To Live, Twitter Must Die: Microblogging has become too important for one company to rule the field", Slate, August 13,2009
- Dave Winer, "Loose.ly coupled 140-char message network", August 13,2009
- danah boyd, "Twitter: "pointless babble" or peripheral awareness + social grooming?", August 16, 2009
- Proposal:Real-time chat
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