Another Brick in the Wall

The battle for Tw*tter took another interesting turn as Identi.ca developer Brad Williams rolled out a bridge between Identi.ca and Twitter. Register for the beta service and all subsequent posts on Identi.ca will be reposted on Twitter, prepended with a user configurable flag that defaults to Identi.ca.

I’ve been self-exiled from posting on Twitter for a month now, but the new service does for the rest of us what Dave Winer rolled for himself to bridge from FriendFeed to Twitter. When I left Twitter posting behind, I left the Twitter inputs in FriendFeed alone and added a new Identi.ca hook when FriendFeed began supporting its XMPP stream. But with the new bridge, I had to go in and cut the Twitter feed, leaving old messages intact with FriendFeed’s handy switch.

Monitoring the Twitter flow continues to be a hack, with TwitterSpy limping along on its quasi-authorized siphoning off of the old Summize-now-Twitter Search API feed. Twitter has long since proven that Track will only return when the company has figured out how to monetize the process or lock everybody else out from its cloud. Twhirl and FriendFeed provide a reasonable way to monitor the Twitter side by side with the fast Identi.ca stream, but the reverse direction underlines the handcuffs Twitter has imposed.

Switching back to posting to Twitter via the bridge stirred some debate among the Identi.ca crowd, particularly among the open source advocates who looked somewhat askance at this new service and its possibly commercial roots. It’s easy to forget that Identi.ca is both open source and openly commercial, as its creator Evan Prodromou is quick to note. But what fundamentally separates Identi.ca from Twitter in my book is not the roots of its code base but the fact that the XMPP stream is open in one and only via proprietary business deals in the other.

In the month I was silent on Twitter, the Identi.ca community quickly became a haven for an open conversation about what capabilities the new network needed to survive and prosper. I’ve lobbied so far unsuccessfully for an iPhone port similar to Twitter’s mobile client, which although limited to about 10 screens of data (same as the parent Web client) is functional with font size and formatting that’s easy for most boomers to read. Identi.ca’s Web site has no limit on going back in time, but I have to resize each screen and rotate to landscape mode to be able to read without squinting.

IdentiSpy has ably filled the Track shoes, displaying new hits within a second or two of sending them from Twhirl or the Update IM window in Gtalk or Gchat within Gmail. There’s talk of unifying the IdentiSpy, TwitterSpy, and Update IM windows, but for now you can input from any, even from one network to another with appropriate flags. With the new bridge, I can sit in Twhirl and post from the Identi.ca window and watch the posts appear first in FriendFeed and then moments later on Twitter.

As my posts began to proliferate, several Twitter followers complained. I suggested they unfollow or block me. On the Identi.ca side, some argued for limiting the @message syntax across the two networks on the theory that it would be just noise to the folks on Twitter. Again, unfollow or block. Several lobbied for a bridge coming the other way, and I suggested that not only was that not a good idea, but that if it was implemented I would drop the bridge service and wait for one that went from open to closed and not the other way around.

Earlier in the day I had lunch with the CMO of an enterprise company that’s in the process of implementing an XMPP gateway to enhance its collaboration toolset. The software literally adopts the nomenclature of microblogging, letting you “follow” people inside the firewall and even remap the UI from “follow” to “subscribe” as Identi.ca calls it. The company’s chief technologists are contributers to the open XMPP community, the CTO having served on the board of the XMPP Standards Foundation.

Here we have convergence between entrepreneurs leveraging open source contributions, open standards coalitions, and open transparency in giving users and groups the confidence to enter into social contracts for personal and professional productivity. As if to round out this fascinating day of progress, Google finally closed the hole they opened up with the misuse of Gmail contacts in exposing Google Reader Shared Items without the consent of the user.

From now on, users will be able to define “friends” overtly, and configure who can see their shared items and hide the ones you don’t want to see in Reader. After months of rising the issue and having it go largely unheeded, a series of NewsGang Live podcasts consisting of anyone who wants to call in led to one participant calling a friend at Google who subsequently called me and arranged for a dialogue with the company that led to today’s announcement.

Taken alone, these small bricks in the wall seem frail and even trivial, like the reconstruction of how an argument started after it’s over. But taken together, they illustrate the power of people to work together with just a few rules: openness, respect, and integrity. There’s nothing inherent in any of these constructs – commercial, open source, enterprise, consumer, local, or the cloud – that rules them in or out of this social journey we’re on.

Dave Winer has suggested we convene a MicroBlogging Camp to help continue this effort toward an open microblogging community. I second that idea and will work to find a venue and resources to help make that happen. If you’re in, contact me @stevegillmor on Identi.ca, FriendFeed, or Twitter, or leave your thoughts here on TechCrunchIT.