A few words can mean a whole lot

One of the great things about Twitter is how a terse exchange can lead to big thoughts. I just had this exchange with Robert Scoble:

  • <Scobleizer> I know I’m breaking the Twitter rules. But I don’t want to blog. I want to have conversations with everyone here. I wish Twitter was better.
  • <dossy> @Scobleizer, replace Twitter with IRC? :-)
  • <Scobleizer> @dossy: Twitter has RSS, IRC does not. Twitter has permalinks. IRC, no. Twitter lets you kick out the idiots. IRC doesn’t.

It got me thinking, why is Twitter and IRC an either-or choice? Twitter is already accessible via SMS, IM and web–why not IRC, too? Suppose there was a Twitter IRC bot, which you could register with using your Twitter username and password. It would send you Twitter updates via IRC private messages and you could send it updates in return. Basically, it could work just like the current Twitter IM interface, just over IRC.

Then, I thought, why not take it one step further: an IRC network (think: irc.twitter.com) on which you use your Twitter username as your IRC nickname, and it requires your Twitter password in order to connect. It would have one channel, #public, for public updates. Another channel, #friends, would appear to have all the people you’re following on Twitter in it. Direct messages would be exchanged using IRC’s private messages. You might follow/unfollow people by sending a private message to the “Twitter” nickname.

But, are these really Robert’s objections to IRC? I mean, adding a logging bot to an IRC channel which publishes logs as RSS is easy. Publishing those same logs as HTML with named anchors would provide permalinks for individual messages. IRC lets you kick and ban from channels, as well as being able to ignore them in your IRC client. Is the problem really that IRC isn’t Twitter, or is it really that IRC is IRC, and nobody cares about IRC any more?

Could IRC become relevant again if it just implemented these few simple Twitter features? I don’t think so–I think Twitter’s success owes itself to Twitter’s actual implementation:

  • It has a low cost of activation: web based, no client installation required to just get started, lightweight HTML interface vs. a fat desktop client or rich Internet application for IRC.
  • Once people become part of their self-created community, it becomes part of their routine. They habitualize their use of it.

That second point, the “self-created community,” is really powerful. Unlike IRC, it’s trivially easy to follow/unfollow someone on Twitter. If you’re not interested in someone’s updates, it’s very easy to make it impossible for them to interact with you on Twitter. Not so easy on IRC, which has always been one of its weaknesses.

So, what might come out of all this thinking and rambling? I don’t know–maybe these thoughts will spark someone else’s thought process and we can build up from there. I just wanted to capture these thoughts before they escaped my brain.

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