I was involved with a number of projects at Fisher Communications until last month. Including building a Plone system to be its news sites’ in-house CMS. Our development environment and technology stack were open-source, with only a couple exceptions.
When I worked on our technology roadmap, an early consideration was how to distribute quick (lightweight) intra-team updates. Virtually the entire development team would be within the same building; of those, virtually all would be within one office. The CMS project would eventually reach 10 heads in dev, QA, and operations; plus content creation and advertising traffic control. Other dev or page layout individuals would be on other activities. For all of this, we needed a way to inform each other about daily activities. Daily stand-ups are used for this in a typical XP or Scrum team. (To be fair, stand-ups are used in many different development methodologies, but XP and Scrum have greatly popularized them in the mainstream technical media.)
Eh… Well, I’ve never been a fan of stand-ups. The have fewer benefits than drawbacks, the largest of which being the dorky Kumbaya moment interrupting the day. I instead prefer using (a) weekly round-table meetings, (b) targeted meetings for specific topics, and (c) a lightweight online update for the quick status.
For the online updates, I wanted to try using micro-blogging this time around. (I’ve read of others doing the same thing. I wasn’t blazing new ground here.)
Selecting the service
I had only a few constraints. While I didn’t desire non-employees reading our posts, I also didn’t see that as a significant security concern. Two reasons: Our micro-posts would be a tiny fraction of all traffic, so we could partly rely on security through obscurity; and we weren’t going to micro-blog any company jewels. The posts would be along the lines of,
“I’m working on image uploader bugfixes today.”
No IP is gleaned in reading that. So while a perfectly secure solution might, for example, use an in-house service with only employee access, a public free service could serve our needs, with the benefit of far less (read: zero) setup and maintenance costs. If we wanted more security at some future time, we could switch to a more secure service then.
As far as I could envision, we didn’t need anything fancier than each of us getting accounts and adding each other to our “friends” lists.
And, the service had to be supported by at least one decent Mac dashboard widget or application. (The cheaper, the better. Free is good.)
An open-source solution would satisfy our constraint set, adhere to our technology philosophy, and let us more easily switch to an internal service if we ever have a reason to do so.
From all the micro-blogging systems, I selected identi.ca, which is based on the open-source Laconica. Laconica and identi.ca are highly regarded, with a decent following and activity level.
But my micro-blogging needs have changed since Fisher laid me off in February. Should I switch to something else? I now need to have general connectivity with others on the web, access conference channels, and help my job search. I have zero need for communicating with teammates, or possible future security.
While identi.ca doesn’t have all of, say, twitter’s features, its more significant drawback is its smaller user base. Everyone and their uncle uses twitter.
Tons of features, it’s everywhere, it works well, and it’s supported by many widgets and apps. I think that covers it.
I haven’t done an exhaustive survey, but I’ve never come across a micro-blogging app that doesn’t support it, aside from emacs identica-mode. (Duh.) Every micro-blogging application or widget supports twitter, if not being hardcoded for it. E.g., Twitterific. (Although you can trick it into following another service, like identi.ca.) Some apps support multiple services, but they always include twitter.
It’s not open-source. OTOH, OS X isn’t open-source, either. (Although Darwin, its underlying operating system, is.) Neither is Microsoft Office for Mac 2008, which I’m using at home. Neither are my syndication reader or newsgroup reader. (Sigh… I’m not writing these words to edify you; I’m doing it to assuage my feelings of open-source betrayal…)
While this question has been in my head for a few weeks, I got prodded into jumping off the fence by an exchange on the #osbridge IRC channel. In discussing using the twitter osbridge channel to publicize Open Source Bridge, I was chided for using identi.ca, for, well, the reasons I’ve enumerated. It was a brief exchange, but for whatever reason, it made me think that I’d delayed this decision long enough.
My original reasons for using identi.ca no longer exist, and using the wrong tool for my needs now isn’t smart. As connectivity to the greater world is the most important consideration, I’m going to switch to twitter in the next couple of days, and join the masses.