Write locally, mirror globally

The Atlantic has an interesting essay on whether Twitter is on a slow decline, less useful and meaningful than it once was:

“Twitter is the platform that led us into the mobile Internet age. It broke our habit of visiting individual news homepages first thing in the morning, and established behaviors built around real-time news consumption and production. It normalized mobile publishing power. It changed our expectations about how we congregate around shared events. Twitter has done for social publishing what AOL did for email. But nobody has AOL accounts anymore.”

It reminds me of something I brought up on Core Intuition a few months back, wondering if Twitter is a core part of the web, something that would be with us forever, or if it is “just another web site”. When we get into the groove of using a new service for a few years, it’s easy to forget that web sites don’t have a very good track record. Giant sites like Facebook and Tumblr seem to have been with us forever, but my personal blog is older than both.

Think about this: if it’s even possible for Twitter to fail — not likely, just possible — then why are we putting so much of our content there first, where there are rules for how tweet text can be used? Storage for all tweets is so massive that there’s no guarantee that other companies will be able to take over the archive if the service has to fold. It’s why I built Tweet Library and Watermark to archive and publish tweets.

Decentralization is the internet’s greatest strength and weakness. There shouldn’t be one service to hold all of blogging; each writer should have his or her own domain and web site. But web sites also die all the time from neglect. We need centralized services to index and syndicate content so that it’s preserved and accessible to more people.

Longevity is the next great challenge for the web. All of my work on Riverfold apps is leading this way, from archiving tweets, to curating and publishing your best photos, to indexing a copy of the text and HTML from your blog. But I’m just one guy with a limited server budget.

It’s time for a new web standard — a metadata format and API that describes how to mirror published content. Maybe it’s part of IndieWebCamp? When I write on my blog, I want the content to flow to GitHub Pages, to the Internet Archive, to Medium. When I post photos, I want the content to flow to Dropbox, to S3, to Flickr. It’s not enough to backup or copy data blindly; the source must point to each mirror, and each mirror service must understand who the creator is and how to find the original data if it still exists.

Unlike a distributed platform that works at the level of raw data, like BitTorrent, this new system should work natively with well-understood common files: text, photos, video, and the glue (usually HTML, Markdown, or JSON) that makes a collection meaningful. Instead of yet another generic sync system, it’s a platform that understands publishing, with adapters to flow content into each mirror’s native storage.

If you accept that this is something worth doing, then every place we put our content must be classified as either an original source or a mirror. And this brings us back to Twitter. Because while I think the next 5 years for Twitter will be strong, I’m not convinced that it will last 50 years. Therefore, Twitter cannot be an original source of data; it must be just one of several mirrors for micro-blogging.

Manton Reece @manton
🕸💍