identi.ca vs. twitter


I’ve used identi.ca micro-blogging for the past five months. I’m switching to twitter.

Why identi.ca?

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.

So…

I wound up using emacs identica-mode, and Chirp, at work. All well and good. And if I were still at Fisher Communications working with my team, the decision would stand.

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.

Why 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…)

Recent prodding…

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.

6 comments
  1. Ben said:

    I fail to see the need to ‘Switch’.

    Personally, whenever I post, I tweet and dent simultaneously. I use ‘Gwibber’ primarily to keep track of things, though I do get a small pop up when messages come in also.

    I generally tweet from identica – so you can follow me on Twitter, and you can see me on Twitter, but I am really using identi.ca – and when Twitter comes down, I don’t lose the whole shebang.

    What you’re doing is supporting ONLY Twitter, which is a strange and defeatist attitude. Next you’ll be changing to Windows, because Mac is for a minority group too isn’t it?

  2. John said:

    You’ve elected to complicate your micro-blogging life by posting to two services. That’s something I won’t elect, and don’t need, to do. If my micro-social world were fragmented across multiple services, and the only way to be heard by all my requisite audience was to register and post using multiple services, I’d do that. But everyone I care to tweet/dent/whatever to has a Twitter account. Because: Twitter launched micro-blogging, it’s continued to innovate, it has all the features, it’s free, and it works well enough (at least well enough) for free.

    Yes, I could use a reader application that reads from multiple services. But that’s another complication that I don’t need, because everyone I care to follow is on Twitter.

    Implicit in my position, which perhaps I should have laid out clearly, is that micro-blogging isn’t my primary online communication interchange. It’s fourth on the list, depending on how you want to measure these things, coming after e-mail, web, and syndication. (It’s not dead last. Mobile’s last.) So, I balance my need for some level of micro-blogging connection against complicating my software world, and conclude that using just Twitter is the right thing.

  3. Ben said:

    Fragmentation is created by Twitter being CLOSED – however I hardly find it complicated to type my login ben2talk and password two times – the replies all return in the same fashion and the actual platform is irrelevent – e-mail is for direct communication, whereas microblogging for something completely different. I see no problem if my messages come in from Identi.ca or Twitter. The general attitude that ‘Everyone’s on Twitter, so let’s not bother with anything else’ will simply make other clients close down and eliminate choice.

    I think you should use Windows XP and refrain from using any other operating system – it’s too complicated okay? For me, however, I’ll use whatever platform I require to do the job, and will maintain as much choice and support CHOICE as much as I can – for it is choice that is making the world an incredibly inventive and excellent place to live.

  4. John said:

    I assume you’re using a multi-platform client because you need to communicate with users on different platforms. So, some people you follow, or want to follow you, use only identi.ca.

    You argue that I should use identi.ca for philosophical reasons. As I’ve written, that’s what I was initially doing. But I don’t care to have multiple micro-blogging accounts, and the complications (however minor) that follow. Given that everyone’s on Twitter, why should I increase my software complexity by any amount? There’s zero return for my effort. The answer, which you’ve said, is to do it for the betterment of open-source.

    But how does using identi.ca do that? You’re using identi.ca and Twitter, because you want to “support choice as much as I can.” That’s great, but I’m fuzzy on how your being available on both platforms advances identi.ca. Anyone who wants to follow you can find you on Twitter, right? So I don’t need an identi.ca account to follow you. I’m curious how your posting to two systems helps identi.ca.

  5. Ben said:

    Partly because when you message, there’s a tag – I like to see tags that say ‘from identi.ca’ or ‘from identibash’ or ‘from Gwibber’ or ‘from Gnome-Do’ – there’s a big part of it I guess.

    I only post to identi.ca – broadcast on Twitter is automatic, and so as an identi.ca user I don’t miss out on Twitter contacts. If I want things to quiet down a lot, to my very local band of users, then I stop listening to Twitter. Perhaps this wouldn’t suit you, but I think that Twitter will be spammed out before identi.ca – and you can’t take your contacts with you if you change.

    I like to visit the Bangkok Hilton, but I do not wish to join the inmates.

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