The launch of Twitter clone Identi.ca earlier this week caused a bit of a blogstorm because it appears to have a solution to Twitter’s all-too-regular downtime. (That problem has reached comical proportions, with the familiar Twitter Fail Whale now appearing on T-shirts and kitschy art).
Identi.ca’s answer to Twitter’s scaling issues is by open-sourcing its code and encouraging others to host Identi.ca on their own servers, thus distributing the load. The service also supports other open standards, such as OpenID and a new one called OpenMicroblogging. Based on OAuth, the OpenMicroblogging standard is aimed at making it easy for people on other messaging services to subscribe to Identi.ca users and vice versa.
Identi.ca is the brainchild of
Canadian developer Evan Prodromou (a Californian living in Montreal), who explains the thinking behind the project here. He has a lot of good ideas. In particular, we agree that decentralizing Twitter is the key to making it scale better, although there are other ways to do that as well. The service is also based on the idea that you can take your data with you at any time to any other microblogging service.
But for now, Identi.ca is only for super-early adopters. It lacks some basic functionality, such as the ability to search for other users to follow or to import your contacts from other services. (I guess you are supposed to e-mail all your friends the link to your Identi.ca profile so that they can subscribe to you or just hope they find your name on the public feed). These problems are easy enough to address, and Identi.ca has along list of features it is working on.
The bigger problem with Identi.ca is simply that it is not Twitter. However annoying Twitter’s erratic outages may be, it still has the advantage of having many more users than any other competing service. If everyone is on Twitter, what’s the point of going to Identi.ca? That can change over time, obviously, especially if Twitter does not get its act together. But the inconvenience of switching means that it still has time to fix itself.
That does not mean Twitter can afford to ignore the excitement generated by Identi.ca. In fact, it should adopt some of its ideas, like decentralizing its messaging system and making it easy for people to export their friends and data to other services.