A few thoughts on plurk and twitter

Along with many others I’ve been responding to the recent unreliability of twitter by checking out a few of the alternatives that are out there, particularly the dreadfully named but fairly cute plurk.

Plurk has quickly gained quite a few users but didn’t make a good first impression with me. The first thing that I was asked after signing up was to hand over my IM username and password to allow them to import my contacts. Being asked for passwords for such a purpose isn’t rare, but as Jeremy Keith so eloquently noted, it’s a very bad idea and—as dopplr show—increasingly unnecessary. That the developers ignored those sorts of details in an attempt to quickly build critical mass for their service makes me wonder how in step they are with other ideas of best practice on today’s web.

Plurk Timeline

The timeline view that is plurk’s main interface is a nice idea, but it really doesn’t work as a primary way in to your data. Not only is there no fallback when javascript is switched off (neither progressive enhancement or graceful degradation here) but it quickly gets cluttered and when a “thread” gets large it proves very slow. The mobile interface, and per thread interface (as seen for jenny’s collaborative storytelling experiment) are an improvement but they lack the simplicity (elegance?) that twitter offers.

Rather than building a more robust twitter, plurk have experimented with new features, and in itself that’s a good thing. The icons are amusing, the timeline’s a nice visualisation for a small number of messages, and the threaded view works fairly well in very specific contexts. But the essential strengths of twitter—its open API, the way its team adapted the service based on how its users were interacting—aren’t there. And as Lloyd pointed out it requires too much “total attention.” With less focus on flow (and no sign of an open API that would allow clients like twitterific) it can’t become part of the general ambient noise of your day. And as Stowe Boyd observed most of the UI niceties would be pretty easy to layer on top of twitter using its API.

Can anything displace twitter in the near future and claim the space it currently owns?

On one level, we don’t yet need to ask that question as while twitter is a big part of the lives of many of us, the space it occupies is still pretty small and there are no guarantees as to how or even whether it will grow to the scale of facebook et al.

On another, I suspect that the next step from twitter is not a competing service, whatever fancy new features they offer, but is instead a shift from twitter-as-product to a far more distributed architecture that recognises that tools that help us engage with “the flow” of online chatter are a significant part of the infrastructure of how we live on the web, and so need to be built as infrastructure.

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