Protocol or profit: Is Twitter in trouble?

June 22, 2010

Twitter’s recent downtime, its worst since October 2009, is generating a lot of discussion about the future of microblogging. Failwhale sightings have increased this month as users have reacted in record numbers to major events such as the BP oil spill and the FIFA World Cup. That “perfect storm” has created a situation where millions of people are having trouble using a service they rely on, a service they didn’t even know they needed three or four years ago.

Twitter’s instability begs one question among many others: If tweeting is so important, should a private corporation be solely responsible for its operation?

Should short-form global text communication be owned by [a] corporation? Or, like e-mail and telephone technology, should it be an interoperable protocol that can be a worldwide product that might be trading in a short-term billion-dollar valuation, but could be getting a decades-long shelf life in the process?

This is a similar question to one raised earlier this spring, as Facebook’s well-publicized privacy crisis left many users wondering whether society’s “social graph” ought to remain within one company’s control. Though it may be awhile until we can answer either question definitively, these questions are only going to be asked more often — and with increasing volume — in the years to come.

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