Point/Counterpoint - Twitter

This month, Kyle and Bill go toe to toe on one of the hottest Internet waves to hit in recent memory.

That's right, we're covering microblogging—more specifically, Twitter. Kyle thinks Twitter is just another rehash of tried-and-true tech, while Bill thinks it fills an interesting niche in people's on-line lives. What's the reality though? Read on to find out. (Bill is simu-tweeting this, so his replies are limited to 140 characters, just to prove that Twitter can be useful.)

Bill: Kyle, I found a Twitter client for you. It's text-based and plugs in to an IRC client like another channel. It might help with your Web 2.0 hate.

Kyle: You know, if I could add it as yet another IRC channel or tie Bitlbee into it, then I probably would. That way, it wouldn't be that annoying, just another thing to lurk in.

Bill: Besides, Shawn Powers is on Twitter. You can tweet with more people than just me. It'll be fun!

Kyle: Bill, forget it. Someone already took greenfly. It's not fun if they took my name.

Bill: Wow. I can see you pout from here.

Kyle: Oh well, I'll just wait for the next bandwagon. One's bound to clatter by any time now. Or, maybe I'll just use IRC or IM to do the exact same thing.

Bill: Kyle, I thought the same thing. I was so wrong. Twitter isn't anything like chat.

Kyle: Yeah, well, Twitter matches your iPhone better. Kyle follows Bill's mom.

Bill: Hey, leave my mom out of this. Besides, she's not on Twitter. The closest to that is my sister, who is on Facebook.

Kyle: Okay, Bill. It's obvious you like Twitter. But seriously, why is someone who's “following” you different from someone having you on a buddy list or being in an IRC room?

Bill: Because Twitter is totally public.

Kyle: So is IRC; it's just not written in AJAX.

Bill: Not that way. At any given time there is a limited number of people in an IRC room. With Twitter, my content is open to the whole world...

Bill: ...whether they follow or not. Not only is it visible to everyone, but others can respond to it without following me.

Kyle: Nice cheat there. Having to hack around the limitations of your service.

Bill: Some see it as a feature that enables creativity by constraining the amount of content. It's quality, not quantity.

Kyle: Considering all the posts that talk about what someone had for lunch, I don't know that everyone on Twitter shoots for quality either. Really, people use Twitter like a chatroom. You can replace “what are you doing right now?” with what you put in an IM or IRC away message.

Bill: Sometimes, but it's more like a blog or threaded forum. Have you heard the term microblogging? It fits Twitter perfectly.

Kyle: So basically, it's IRC applied to cell phones. I will give you this though, with Twitter, at least there are fewer normal blogs full of one-sentence-long posts linking to other content.

Bill: How can you argue that when you've not even tried it?

Kyle: They took my screen name, so there's little point in using it. “Krankin” isn't nearly as fun as “greenfly”.

Bill: Let me get this straight. Because you can't get your handle on Twitter, it's a useless, duplicate service?

Kyle: No, it was a useless and redundant service before I tried it, but now that I can't have the handle, I also have no motivation to do it as a favor to you.

Bill: Okay, I get that you're annoyed. But admit it, you're still judging without fully understanding.

Kyle: What's there to understand? People read text; people occasionally reply to text. You get into a group with certain people and all of them see what you write and (potentially) vice versa.

Bill: The difference is the audience is broader. Broader than arguably a blog. You could use it as a good marketing tool, if you quit judging.

Bill: But noooo, just go ahead and sit in your tower, and pout.

Kyle: It's just that I don't see it filling a need that wasn't already filled with IM and IRC. I honestly think half the reason it's so popular is everyone from all the news outlets, celebrities and now Oprah have all jumped on the bandwagon, so they can seem hip and on the cutting edge of this modern age. When they talk about tweeting, it just reminds me of everyone stumbling over MySpace a few years ago. Once everyone's mom got an account, they made a mass exodus. I think the same thing will happen soon with Twitter, once it's no longer a hip, niche technology.

Bill: Perhaps that will happen. But Twitter is not anything like MySpace. I think of Twitter more like the old UNIX wall command...

Bill: ...you shout out what you want to say and not only do your followers see it, but it also winds up on the Twitter main page...

Bill:...and if it's actually usable, your followers can tell others. Word spreads very quickly via that path (retweeting).

Bill: Texting is a valid form of communication. Twitter takes texting and extends it to the Web and the world.

Kyle: One final thing is that even though Twitter's API is opened up so you can write your own client, you still are beholden to its servers to use the service. At least with IRC, if I don't like any of the available servers, I can start up my own IRC dæmon on my own hardware. At least, with IRC and IM, it's not painful to have a low-latency real-time conversation with others. The bottom line for me is I just don't see anything special you can do with Twitter that couldn't be done better with other technologies that let you write more than one sentence at a time.

Bill: That will change with time. Laconica/Identica offer a microblogging service that's open, free and federated. Much like AIM...

Bill: ...that IM service was and is closed. Jabber has since come along and surpassed it. I suspect Laconica will do the same.

Bill: Whatever your opinion, Kyle, it's likely that microblogging will be around. It may be a niche, but it's a useful niche.

Kyle Rankin is a Senior Systems Administrator in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of a number of books, including Knoppix Hacks and Ubuntu Hacks for O'Reilly Media. He is currently the president of the North Bay Linux Users' Group.

Bill Childers is an IT Manager in Silicon Valley, where he lives with his wife and two children. He enjoys Linux far too much, and he probably should get more sun from time to time. In his spare time, he does work with the Gilroy Garlic Festival, but he does not smell like garlic.


Kyle Rankin is Chief Security Officer at Purism, a company focused on computers that respect your privacy, security, and freedom. He is the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu


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news media and the point?

Anonymous's picture

I agree with Kyle, simply because I don't see the point to it...There's nothing new it provides, except that it's more streamlined than facebook/etc.

One thing I've been thinking about lately Kyle mentions, about the news media. I've seen them promote it so much lately that I've started to wonder if they're being told (read: paid) to use (read: advertise) it and talk about it on the air. The only other thing that could explain it is that the reporters are somewhat celebrity (and we all know how retarded many people get over celebrities) and so they probably have a bunch of followers (read: groupies). It's possible that it makes them feel special in a way that most reporters don't usually get, as they aren't the typical celebrity, and so they indulge. Other than that, I cannot find one bit of rhyme or reason as to why they'd advertise the service so much. Even if it was the most useful piece of software/service on the planet I cannot see why it would be advertised so much -- I mean, where's all the linux advertisements and coverage? (I may be presumptuous in assuming most of us would agree linux is more useful than twitter).

The only real usage I can see for this service is corporate status messages to (potential) clients. It sounds like another means of advertising...one that is actually opt-in, opposed to slammed in your face even though you really don't want to see it. Is that what we need though, another means of advertising?

Sure, it's around, it's everywhere, it's got it's fifteen minutes. Eventually it will go the way of myspace and people will wonder what it is or why they bothered...or maybe, they'll still remain interested in the kind of sandwich you ate yesterday at 3pm.

As for me, I don't understand the interest.

Twitter vs IRC

Annette's picture

I find it hilarious that I can see both points of view. I have also done /me more times than I would like to admit on twitter, but only a handful of my followers get it.

Frankly, despite the time-delay on twitter and people's availability, I like twitter more. And when the service goes down, I switch to FB and IM.


Aaron Toponce's picture

Laconica is the savior right there. Federation is the future, not vendor locked-in services, where you don't control your data. Email and Jabber are two fabulous examples.