The Coming Twit-Pocalypse

Facebook and Twitter are on a collision course.  And my money is on Facebook.

What gives?

With Facebook’s latest, and decidedly controversial redesign, they put status updates FRONT and CENTER. Admittedly, this wasn’t a huge departure from the way status updates were displayed before, and the change probably wouldn’t have been a big deal – until you looked at your Twitter home page.

Notice any similarities?

In the Venn Diagram of Features, Facebook Swallows Twitter

Twitter has exactly one function. Status updates. Twitter’s open API functions are what make it so popular. Anyone can write an application to read or update tweets. Because of this, Twitter has become as much a communication platform as it has a website.  All of its 4 to 5 million users can use any number of methods to let their followers know they’re eating a plate full of pork lomein.

Facebook does all of this and more. In fact, Facebook has even finer grained control over friend listing and sorting. You can also “blackout” friends so you don’t see their status updates at all. Additionally, Facebook status updates accept comments or, to use the Twitter analog, “replies”, which effectively gives you threaded conversations.


Now, imagine tomorrow if Facebook flipped a switch and suddenly there was an open REST API through which you could update your Facebook status with a desktop application like Twhirl. [ed. note: TweetDeck is already on it] Now imagine you instantly begin seeing the steady stream of your Facebook friends updates. Then imagine you can expand and contract each update to see the conversation thread or even put a “pin” in one so it stays near the top of your feed to monitor it. Now imagine the 175 million Facebook users using this service compared to Twitter’s paltry 4 or 5 million.

If Facebook doesn’t make this move inside of the next 12 months I will be shocked. If you’re reading this and it’s April 2010 and Facebook doesn’t have its boot on Twtter’s throat then you should stop reading this blog because I’m full of shit.

I Welcome our New Information Overlords

Invariably there will be resistance to the new world order of status and presence trafficking. Let’s look at the situation objectively, though. Facebook’s platform is superior to Twitter’s in almost every way:

  • Custom friend lists and groups at the source.
  • Threaded conversations.
  • Fine-grained friend control including temporary friend “blackouts”.
  • A business plan that makes, you know, money.
  • Forms of updates other than text. Presumably (and hopefully) this would be filterable.

Within 48 hours of Facebook turning on some kind of open REST / API system someone will release a desktop application with all or most of the features I’ve talked about baked in.  From then it will only be a matter of time before Twitter becomes irrelevant.

You signed up for twitter. Now what?

A question I’ve been getting a lot lately is, “What is twitter?” Invariably this is followed up with, “Why would people want to know what I’m doing all day?” New and prospective twitter users are often somewhat baffled by the service and aren’t quite sure what to make of it or how to put it to good use. I’m going to try and jog through the main reasons I like twitter and back them up with examples, helpful tools,  and some personal anecdotes.

Quickie Introduction

First, I’m going to briefly (very briefly) touch on the basic machinations behind twitter. The upshot is that you get 140 characters to type something. Anything. Usually a “tweet” describes what your doing but can be anything from a random thought to a question for your followers.

Who are followers? The other major mechanic to understand about twitter is that in order for people to see what you’re writing, they have to subscribe to your feed or “follow” you. There are several ways to do this but the most basic is simply to open a browser to your profile at and click the “follow” button under your avatar. Presto. now anything you type will show in your subscribers’ feeds. Likewise, when you click another user’s follow button, anything they tweet will show in your feed. This interaction is the fulcrum upon which twitter’s power really lies.

So? Now what?

From this point there are many directions you can take. You may choose to follow only your friends and have them follow you. You may choose to follow celebrities, news anchors, or organizations. You may even only follow companies, if they’re on twitter, that have a product your are interested it knowing about.

The direction I took was a little bit different than any of those but I do use twitter for each of the previously mentioned purposes. The main reason I like twitter so much is community. Community is the key idea I want to try and get across. To me twitter isn’t very useful for following people I’ve never met, will never meet, and who are half a world away. I am interested in following local people who are involved with or are interested in the same things I am. For me, that’s local technology and culture. For you it could be real estate. Or marketing. Or public relations. Or art.

I signed up for twitter in April 2008. I didn’t really “get it” but I knew I wanted to get better plugged into the Philadelphia technology and culture scene. I wanted to meet the people involved and get involved myself. One of the BEST tools I used to get started was Twitter Local. Twitter profiles allow you to set your location. Mine says “Philadelphia, PA” for example. Twitter Local allows you to search for tweets by location as they happen. From there it’s just footwork… so to speak. I spent a long time sifting through local tweets to begin to stitch together the community I was looking for. From there I started following people and paying attention to what they had to say. Then I followed people they were following and paid attention to what THEY had to say. Along the way I replied to some tweets and got into plenty of interactive conversations but my main goal was to FIND people. If you are trying to find people by topic, regardless of location, there is This is the reverse process of the one I just described but it’s certainly worth mentioning. You’ll know when you have found the people you’re looking for. They will start tweeting about local community events or pointing out people who are contributing to projects. My first Philadelphia technology community event was Ignite Philly where I met Roz Duffy who I would later team up with to put on our own event! But that story is for another post.

It’s the Community, Stupid.

Today I’d say about 85% of the people I follow on twitter are local community leaders, planners, contributors, and Philadelphia enthusiasts. I sprinkle in a few Internet celebrities, too, so I can keep an eye on things but like I’ve been saying, the power of twitter is local community!

What’s your next step? If you’re a Realtor, search for other Realtors on twitter! If you’re in marketing, search for other marketers! When you find the rest of your local community, whatever it is, things will start to happen. Conversations will unfold. And you will be part of them.

Give a little bit!

On Tuesday, December 9th Geeks Who Give will be hosting their inaugural event, a combined tweetup, and Philabundance food drive, at National Mechanics in Old City. Of course you don’t have to be a geek to attend and the raffle prizes are looking downright fantastic!

As well, Scott McNulty and Marisa Mclellan of Fork You Live will be giving a cooking demo! Events like these are a constant reminder to me of the power of Philadelphia’s people and culture. Community leaders are constantly stepping up to put on events, raise awareness, and contribute to wonderful causes. Moreover, Philabundance is reporting low stocks this year so contributions are needed more than ever! See you on the 9th at National Mechanics!

Barcamp Philadelphia

The long version.

In April of this year I attended my first Barcamp, Barcamp Orlando. BCO was organized by Gregg Pollack of the Rails Envy podcast (one of my favorites). I really didn’t quite know what to expect other than what I saw from the previous years’ recap video. To date, my experience with technology conferences had been

Courtesy: aschek
Courtesy: aschek

mostly the seminar type; dripping with marketing pitches and tutorials describing the features of new products. I didn’t find anything wrong with these conferences but I didn’t feel particularly connected with the people I met in attendance either. I could tell that I wanted more.

I found what I was looking for.

In the two days that comprised Barcamp Orlando, I met the most passionate, creative, intelligent, and flat out NICE developers, creatives, and new media pioneers I had ever seen. Each talk I went to turned into a discussion. The pros of the speaker’s ideas were weighed vigorously against the cons of an audience member’s challenges. Groups of like-minded campers spun off into ad-hoc discussion forums to hash out the latest changes to WordPress or to talk about their latest open source project. Developers from every corner of the landscape brought their unique insight to the congregation. It was brilliant. And for the first time I felt like I was part of a discussion and not part of an audience.

A series of fortunate events.

At the same time and in an extremely fortuitous coincidence I had recently begun using twitter. This led to using TwitterLocal. TwitterLocal led me to gradually stitch together the tech community that had been right in my back yard the whole time. Soon I was going to workshops at IndyHall and attending community-oriented events like Ignite Philly. Around this time I met Roz Duffy who seemed to have as passionate a desire to bring Barcamp to Philadelphia as I had.

Over the next few months we announced Barcamp Philly and started actively looking for locations and volunteers. Geoff DiMasi from P’unk Ave introduced us to staff at The University of the Arts in downtown Philadelphia and it was obvious from the first tour that we had found our venue. Over time we obtained sponsors and raised a small army of volunteers who shared our interest in putting on a community-driven event. Roz turned the Barcamp Philly website into a brilliantly effective hub of information, promotions, and a list of interesting profiles of Barcamp Philly registrants.

Courtesy: Roz Duffy
Courtesy: Roz Duffy

On Saturday, November 8th, Philadelphia got its first Barcamp and it surpassed my wildest expectations. We reserved ten rooms and allotted seven one-hour time slots. All but a few slots were used before the end of the day. The talks ranged from community organizing, to making your own business cards, to rethinking the entire structure of a university institution. Carl Leiby made an amazing mobile schedule for us that has since turned into it’s own open source project! The attendees were bursting with enthusiasm. At the end of the day we made our way down to Old City to National Mechanics for our after party. Euphoric is a strong word but playing Rock Band with 150 of your newest friends at the end of a exceptional day comes damn close.

The following Monday I opened my email and found that the community was still buzzing. Talks of other local “camps” had started. Barcamp attendees were already organizing their new events. Leaders were emerging. Communities were solidifying. The momentum was strong and the excitement was palpable.

Helping to organize Barcamp Philadelphia has been one of my proudest moments. The community of volunteers, contributors, and sponsors involved with making it happen are ROCK STARS and are a credit to the city.

I can’t wait for Barcamp Philly 2009!

Photos of Barcamp Philly 2008

Barcamp Philly Wiki

Also, do check out Roz’s excellent post.