Week Three of The Gillmor Gang on TechCrunch went as well as could be expected. After the reunion cattle call and last week’s Mesh interrogation of David Treadwell, the apparent news shifted back to the denouement of the Microsoft Yahoo acquisition,
now amusingly being called a merger by the Wall Street Journal and the Times.
When Times Bits editor Saul Hansell kicked off the Gang conversation around the advisability of the deal from Ballmer’s perspective, I quickly vectored back to Live Mesh and why it makes the deal make sense. Of course, Microsoft certainly knew about both projects and their timing when they announced the buyout strategy, and few others did. And just as most analysts handicapped the takeover as being about advertising, so too did most view Mesh as a synchronization play.
The latter is like Bill Clinton comparing the Obama campaign to Jesse Jackson’s campaigns, a casual put down by narrowing the focus to the least disruptive aspects of this year’s political fundamentals. Similarly, calling Mesh just another bigco chaining of the previous monopoly to the next one pigeonholes Redmond as the comfortable old shoe of convicted monopolist. In the political world, that’s called framing.
But look at the Yahoo deal in the context of Mesh and a simple but disruptive model emerges. Microsoft must do several hard things with the deal: Use its brute force to acquire the company, and use its openness and transparency to acquire (retain) Yahoo’s customers (I’ll go watch Twitter for a few seconds while you laugh at the idea of Microsoft openness and transparency).
Look, however, at Mesh not as a synchronization technology but as the political renderer for the architectural absorption of Yahoo. The conventional wisdom is that Mesh is Windows only for starters, that the Mac version will come “soon,” that the Web client doesn’t allow provisioning of the system. But what if Silverlight front ends appear this month for various strategic apps? Indeed, Loic Le Meur is already receiving support from Microsoft France for just such a rendering of his Seesmic video tool. Le Meur’s recent acquisition of Twitter rich client Twhirl is next.
What better way to test the sincerity and credibility of Mesh than to ask Microsoft when such Silverlight tools for managing Mesh will appear. If the answer is “we’re working on it,” then the marketplace’s response is “we’re waiting for it.” If Mesh is merely a synchronization grid, why not empower PC, Mac, and Linux machines at one fell swoop to explore the kinds of collaborative net-aware applications that can use a boost for off-line storage, intelligent caching, and richer display?
Yes, this a political request: We’re saying: If you’re in this to achieve trust, lead with it. And if Mesh is much more than synchronization, like say, an elastic mechanism for moving information flows based on user-contracted behavioral signals (gestures) then establishing those relationships at the browser layer would be akin to the classic Web 2.0 eyeball plays.
Today’s most classic such play is Twitter, which has built a hockey stick ramp up out of the most trivial of offerings. But who has married social graph (follow) with search (track) with swarming (XMPP gateways such as the real-time Twitter-to-Gtalk client) so aggressively that the expanding overlapping circles of affinity groups fueled by Track (a special keyword search function of the Gtalk implementation) are already pretty much invulnerable to cloning. Data portability aside, how do you transfer the subtleties of a viral social map from a system in constant use?
Don’t believe me? Who’s going to make us switch away from a real time feed of such high value that if we stop contributing we destroy its value not just for ourselves but for the rest of the network? Why have we not seen significant defections? There have been notorious resignations (Hugh MacLeod) that only underlined the traction by the speed of the return to the fold. And all manner of attacks on the social order of the community, whether personal or political doesn’t matter, and almost impossible to distinguish at that.
Where it took Facebook some 6 months to land in hot water hell with Beacon, Twitter experiences furious storms of battle testing on an hourly basis. Bot attacks are mounting as publishers and PR and PACs nail up exploits and dial them back to the point where they re-submerge below the radar. The nature of follow versus flow dictates a careful measuring of signal vs. noise calculation with every follow, or surrender to search engines which reduce the service down to an after-the-fact snipe hunt for conversations it might have been good to be in if only we knew about them at the time.
That’s why the Track function is the true driver of Twitter’s ongoing power, just as Technorati vanity searches powered the build out of the blogosphere. At any moment, anyone on the planet can signal to one of these hybrid affinity groups that they have a question, an idea, or an answer, harnessing the power of a community of self-selecting, swarming activists looking for the most efficient way to extract value from the infostream.
Tracking goes well beyond search because of the two-way nature of TwitterNet. It’s keyword driven, yes, a search for information swarming around that topic, but it’s more importantly a gesture to other nodes on the network. Tracking Gillmor and NewsGang triangulates not only gestures toward me but toward the content and issues generated by the shows, producing a social graph of real-time conversations that can be entered into, passed along via @messages to other trackers, and expanded over time by follows of the people discovered through this mechanism.
And when Track spam rears its aggressive head to challenge the effectiveness of this network, we’re faced with important decisions on how to preserve the open virality while drawing a line with bad actors who want to shut down the discussion of important issues as the All Rev. Wright All The Time cable networks have done. From this week’s Gang:
Le Meur: I follow the replies to me in public like most people do. It’s very easy to expand that as Steve pointed out. Because you can just start writing more and everyone tracking that will start showing that. For example I have a bot talking to me, I don’t know what it is, it’s kind of stupid but it says ‘hi Loic how are you today,’ you can tell it’s a bot. This is the first versions of spam using this. And I want it filtered. So that’s something we’re thinking about as well. And adding XMPP to it will allow you to filter that. Another way to think about filtering is I’m adding… Scoble are you still there? No he is gone. So he’s always talking about adding those 20,000 people on twitter. Getting one update every second. I added 6000. And it’s great because I can hear everybody talking because that’s what I want, it’s very exciting. But when Steve says something, I want to be notified in a better way. Out of 6000 people there are many people you want to get notified better. That’s something we’re fixing, getting groups of friends. There are many many ideas we can think of and we’re thinking about those.
Canter: Loic, you’ve got the resources and the ability to create parallel systems so that’s how the web works. You don’t rely just upon Twitter. You can have parallel systems with a DNS backbone to connect these infrastructures together so that not all your balls are in Evan Williams’ vise.
Scoble: that’s exactly what Twhirl’s doing. They’ve already accepted Twhirl and Friendfeed. So if Twitter goes down Friendfeed is still there and vice versa. So there’s already some redundancy coming into the infrastructure through these tools that are starting to hook up the various aggregators and messaging systems that are coming out.
Luckily, and fundamentally I believe by design, Twitter has remained open to a free flow of real-time track-enabled data, and so far has not gated this via API licensing or metering constraints. Like Mesh, the only thing that could stop Twitter would be just such a futile effort at “locking down” the service, giving users an incentive to move and vendors the economics to build an alternative. As long as Mesh walks the walk, and Twitter talks the talk, there’s no way to stop them.