Clarifying my comments on Twitter’s annotations

Two weeks ago, Mathew Ingram from GigaOM pinged me via my Google Profile to ask what my thoughts — as an open web advocate — are on Twitter’s new annotations feature. He ended up posted portions of my response yesterday in a post titled “Twitter Annotations Are Coming — What Do They Mean For Twitter and the Web?

The portion with my comments reads:

But Google open advocate Chris Messina warns that if Twitter doesn’t handle the new feature properly, it could become a free-for-all of competing standards and markups. “I find them very intriguing,” he said of Annotations, but added: “It could get pretty hairy with lots of non-interoperable approaches,” a concern that others have raised as well. For example, if more than one company wants to support payments through Annotations but they all use proprietary ways of doing that, “getting Twitter clients and apps to actually make sense of that data will be very slow going indeed,” said Messina. However, the Google staffer said he was encouraged by the fact that Twitter was looking at supporting existing standards such as RDFa and microformats (as well as potentially Facebook’s open graph protocol).

Unfortunately some folks found these comments more negative than I intended them to be, so I wanted to flesh out my thinking by providing the entire text of the email I sent to Mathew:

Thanks for the question Mathew. I admit that I’m no expert on Twitter Annotations, but I do find them very intriguing… I see them creating a lot of interesting momentum for the Twitter Dev Community because they allow for all kinds of emergent things to come about… but at the same time, without a sane community stewardship model, it could get pretty hairy with lots of non-interoperable approaches that re-implement the same kinds of features.

That is — say that someone wants to implement support for payments over Twitter Annotations… if a number of different service providers want to offer similar functionality but all use their own proprietary annotations, then that means getting Twitter clients and apps to actually make sense of that data will be very slow going indeed.

I do like that Ryan Sarver et al are looking at supporting existing schema where they exist — rather than supporting an adhocracy that might lead to more reinventions of the wheel than Firestone had blowouts. But it’s unclear, again, how successful that effort will be long term.

Of course, as the weirdo originator of the hashtag, it seems to me that the Twitter community has this funny way of getting the cat paths paved, so it may work out just fine — with just a slight amount of central coordination through the developer mailing lists.

I’d really like to see Twitter adopt ActivityStreams, of course, and went to their hackathon to see what kind of coordination we could do. Our conversation got hijacked so I wasn’t able to make much progress there, but Twitter does seem interested in supporting these other efforts and has reached out to help move things forward.

Not sure how much that helps, but let me know what other questions you might have.

I stand by these comments — though I can see how, spliced and taken out of context, they could be misconstrued.

Considering that we’re facing similar questions about the extensibility model for ActivityStreams, I can speak from experience that guiding chaos into order is actually how “standards” evolve over time. Managing that process determines how quickly an effort like Twitter’s annotations will succeed.

Twitter’s approach of  balancing between going completely open against being centrally managed is a smart approach, and I’m looking forward to both working with them on their efforts, as well as seeing what their developer community produces.

4 thoughts on “Clarifying my comments on Twitter’s annotations”

  1. Appreciate the rapid response and clarification Chris. Hope to hear that you revisit the conversation about activity streams and twitter again soon.

  2. I was lucky enough to be at Warble, a hackday for Twitter-using European developers who didn’t get to Chirp, where Raffi Krikorian, one of their lead devs, gave a talk on annotations; his blog has slides and video: http://mehack.com/extremely-preliminary-look-at-twitters-annota

    He noted that there would, at launch, be an explorer, allowing you to look up most-used annotations, and a wiki, for saying what type names developers were using. Both of these should, if developers use them, help to allay fears of an incompatible free for all.

  3. Great, ’cause that statement was so not like you — if anyone believes in the invisible hand auto-paving catpaths… Anyway: why no twitter client has a simple, negative hashtag-filter yet? TweetDeck does it? Ok, so why no *nice looking* client has it then?

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