The Trouble with Twitter

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Now that the social media service Twitter is theoretically valued at $1 billion, you can't help but wonder what kind of business will Twitter become now that it is about to raise $100 million.

Beyond that fact that Twitter has no real discernible business model as of yet, the trouble with Twitter and all these social networks is that they are little more than glorified walled gardens. You can do almost anything you want in terms of building an application that runs inside these social networks, but if that application wants to pull data out of the social network, that's going to be problematic.

When you peel back the programming interfaces these services have exposed, they are all about making it easier to pull data into their social network. When it comes to building a Web application that might pull data from the social network, the programming interfaces to make that easy are non-existent or so rudimentary as to be useless.

The companies that run social networks like to duck this issue by citing privacy concerns. But even if a user gives permission to allow their data to be used outside the social network, the social network companies don't see it as a part of their business model to enable that. That was the gist of a recent blog post by Twitter CEO Biz Stone concerning the Twitter terms of service.

There's a lot of preaching from Twitter, Facebook and others about the collaboration potential of their social networks. But by and large, these social networks want to confine that activity to their own controlled Web 2.0 environments. That's a shame because it really only serves to limit the real value of these social networks.

The next great untapped potential of the Web is to create Web 3.0 applications that span multiple social network environments, so users and corporations could really view these various social networks as a single integrated platform for developing applications. Without that capability, all we're really doing is making developers write applications for each environment in much the same way they have to write an application for Windows and then Linux. Same old game, just a different day.

In the absence of any real vision from the leaders of the social network community, and in many case business plans, what we're witnessing is a proliferation of social networks that are never going to live up to their full potential. No matter how pretty the garden, at the end of the day a wall is still a wall. If you tear down the walls, the net effect is only going to be more users of the services, not less. So instead of always thinking about how to protect their piece of the action, maybe it would be a far better for all to concentrate on how to make the overall environment not only bigger, but much more useful than sending messages about every little thing we're thinking.