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Thread started by Dave Winer on Saturday, September 22, 2012.

Comments on Costolo talk

I didn't catch the whole of Dick Costolo's talk with Emily Bell at ONA, but I did get to hear the part about developers and APIs. I think this part also relates indirectly to journalists who use Twitter.

1. Twitter will provide a way for users to download their history of posts to Twitter.

I was amazed by this. And I don't believe it will ever happen, or if it does it will be in GIF format or PDF, some format that makes it virtually impossible to move the data somewhere else. It would be completely inconsistent for Twitter to offer freedom to its users when it's paying such a high price in goodwill to take away that freedom.

I think Costolo was caught off-guard by a clever question asked by Ms. Bell, and did what a lot of tech execs do, promise a solution even when they have no idea how to do it, figuring later on they can excuse themselves with a shrug or a joke (as he did in several other instances in this talk, when asked about previous commitments).

Another clue is that he immediately qualified it as being subject to engineering realities. You could almost see the gears turning in his head. :-)

2. Think of 140 characters as a caption. This is consistent with what they're doing. People who argue that 140 characters is some kind of sacred limit are wrong. They should listen to what Costolo says.

I think this the right move, not just for Twitter but for everyone.

But it has implications that some journalists might not see. It means that there is no reason why Twitter couldn't host entire news articles. I am sure they will be doing that, probably fairly soon. I suspect this ability will not be open to everyone, and they will want favorable terms for those it permits to use this feature. Presumably there will be a revenue-share on ads placed on these articles.

Also play what-if -- what if Twitter acquires a news organization. Just because they say they are not a news org today does not say anything about the future. Twitter made all kinds of promises to developers that were broken, in total, within a couple of years.

3. Emily Bell did a great interview. The audience questions were also right on.

I thought Emily Bell did a masterful job of raising these questions to Costolo, but in a disarmingly friendly way. To Costolo's credit he didn't always take the bait. He stuck with the idea that they are a tech company providing a platform, and are not going to cross into content. But he didn't exactly say that.

If I were a betting man, I'd bet that before too long Twitter will be competing with its top content providers, the same way it's now competing with its top developers. Only they'll have to tread more carefully there, assuming the journalists and bloggers still have their own mechanisms to get news out. That's why this is such a dangerous situation. As we rely more and more on Twitter, our websites become less-used conduits for distribution of ideas and news.

Obviously I believe Twitter is today a totally inadequate platform for independent journalists or bloggers and it's going in the wrong direction. They score points for not turning over tweets to governments, but they have an awful track record of tiliting the playing field to favor their partners and even personal friends. This is a very sloppily run platform for both development and journalism. People either don't know the history or are choosing to ignore it, presumably because building their own platforms seems difficult, expensive, or unlikely to succeed. However, the longer you wait the harder it will become, not easier.

Monocultures don't work very well for news.

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