From microblog to Network Protocol: How Twitter will redefine the Internet

Yesterday I had a realization about Twitter.  Twitter is not just a messaging service anymore, it is becoming a veritable Protocol.*  This might sound like a boring technical nuance, but it’s not – it could redefine how we use the internet.  Let me try to illustrate how: (though im just starting to think about this, so I’m still trying to imagine it myself)

*(Wikipedia definition of Protocol: In computing, a protocol is a convention or standard that controls or enables the connection, communication, and data transfer between computing endpoints.)

I was reading a Tech Crunch article about music related twitter mashups that lists the many ways people are using twitter to listen to music.  One example is a music discovery service called

- Users twitter a tinyurl link to a streaming mp3.  In the twitter they include a custom hash tag that tips off the twisten crawler to cataloge the song in various playlists.  At the end of the day, you can go to Twisten and have immediate searchable access to everyone’s twittered music.

Why does this make Twitter a protocol and why does it matter?

Because used in this way, Twitter is an index for the “other Internet.”  The thing that makes Twitter elegant is of course the short format; it forces entities to use Twitter merely as an indexing service and to store all of their data elsewhere on the web.  The paradigm of “the other internet” is that many independent crawlers chase after a fractally growing web that they can never fully read.  Twitter on the other hand is one giant timestamped text file that crawlers can read at their leisure.  Twitter becomes a protocol standard that co-evolves with crawlers and search applications.  They find new ways to create and mine data, but all with the same structure: the continuous timestamp shortform index.

Thinking outloud yesterday, i sketched this image of “the other internet” and twitter.web-twitter-trellis-copyWhat I see, is that twitter could become a trellis for the web – a opt-in backbone that holds an open invitation for the entire internet and grows without bounds, but (unlike the web at large) wonderfully imposes those liberating constraints of time-location and brevity.  It is this constraining format – the timestamp, tag, and shortform, that enables unprecedented collaboration like you see in Twisten.  This opens up a whole new way of creating databases – here’s one imagined example:

Imagine that nearly a billion people around the world are listening to Obama give a speech.  Imagine thousands of people translating the speech into hundreds of languages on the fly using twitter.  An algorithm crawls twitter, graphs the translations into a bell-curve of various differently interpreted translations for each language – then it selects the emergent most-common translation and instantly outputs it onto the screen of viewers subscribing to that twit-lation service.  This whole system I just described is not just a program, it’s not just a search algorithm, it’s a whole system that can only be aptly described as a protocol – a convention of tagging and searching to communicate information.  What’s so cool is that this is arguably the first protocol that can create and disseminate realtime emergent  information from human language.

What makes this possible is the local, compressed, and easily accessible indexing that Twitter provides.  Increasingly people are going to use Twitter in new unintended ways simply for the data-structure of it- because this structure enables them to create these kind of powerful new social databases that we can only begin to imagine.  Ill post more imagined examples later as I think of them..

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6 Responses to “From microblog to Network Protocol: How Twitter will redefine the Internet”

  1. 1 thinksketch February 25, 2009 at 10:25 am


    I just did a search for twitter protocol and found these links:

    Good to know I’m on board with Seth Godin’s thinking..

  2. 2 isoughtajam February 26, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Well put, my friend! This is a fantastic explanation.

  3. 3 Tony Cecala March 5, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Great analysis. I think that the more open and fluid a protocol is, the more creativity gets added to it.

    I’m following the twitter thing more closely now. I’d go so far to say that it’s got more potential than the Google index.

  4. 4 erikvaldman April 25, 2009 at 7:40 am

    Great Thinking. I love the fact that we do not know, have, nor can control the final outcome. everyone counts, a mirror to the self, unbiassedly mapping the collective thoughts, feelings and actions…

  5. 5 FSK1138 July 16, 2009 at 8:03 am

    indexing is nothing new only the content has changed.

    `it is sad that people twitter thier farts`

  1. 1 Links 2009-03-04 - Adam Crowe Trackback on March 4, 2009 at 3:34 pm

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