Cool Projects: Laconica

By now, most people have probably heard of Twitter. And if you pay much attention to the stuff on this page, you’re aware that I’m a member of twitter, and that I tweet occasionally. Twitter is what’s known as a Microblogging platform, micro because you only get ~140 characters to put your post in. What’s interesting about Twitter is that it’s evolved into more than just a blogging platform. In fact, many poeple use it almost more like a chat room, with threads of conversation being woven among each other. Plus, Twitter is a real Web 2.0 sort of technology, with a plethora of APIs to put data in and get data out of Twitter. Most of my experience with Twitter never even touches the Twitter website.

But some people haven’t been happy with Twitter. Some because Twitter has had stability issues. Some because features, like IM, that Twitter pushed heavily, have been disabled for some time. For others, it’s simply the Tiwtter, for all it’s openness, is a closed system.

Enter Laconica.

Laconica is an open-source microblogging platform, but it’s more than that. Laconica is a framework to build a network of microblogging communities. What’s that mean? Well, Twitter is monolithic. Twitter, even though they don’t appear to have a business model, wants everyone to have to go to Twitter in order to microblog. This means that Twitter has thousands of users with no common thread to tie them together. Functionally, Twitter has become a set of communities within the larger Twitter community, which due to the sheer size of the system, is probably related to why Twitter has had stability issues.

Laconica tries a different approach. With Laconica, many sites can run Laconica communities. This makes the Public Tracker (a particularly useless feature of Twitter) actually useful, becuase the people on the Laconica server I have chosen to be involved in have some sort of a shared interest. Currently there are a bunch of Laconica servers, the biggest of which being Identi.ca. I myself am a member of the TWiT Army, being a fan of the TWiT Netcast Network, and liking the technical bent of many of the members of the Army.

I hear you asking, “But won’t that just create a lot of Microblog Islands?” Absolutely not, I say. The best feature about Laconica is the ability to subscribe to users who aren’t actually on the same server as you are. If I see a Identi.ca user I want to follow (like say, the guy responsible for Laconica), I just subscribe, give the site my profile address, and immediate the Laconica server I’m a member of will pull that person’s updates into my friend feed. If I decide to move Laconica servers, I can take all my friends and contacts with me, something Twitter would make very difficult, but is a key part of the design of Laconica.

Laconica is about Microblogging in a free and open way. Is it going to kill Twitter overnight? No, but I do suspect that many people are going to shift as individual communities come up that are more interesting to them. The ability to follow the public feed in a meaningful way has caused me to cut my Twitter usage significantly, and I’ve heard the same from quite a few others. Plus, the code is open, so if a feature isn’t available (like, say, the ability to specify a JavaScript callback like Twitter allows for the sidebar tweets on this site), I can hack it in and make it available to everyone else.

What’s most important though isn’t the openness of the code, as it is the openness of the data. Since I can take my Laconica friends with me whenever I leave a particular site, I never really lose anything if I choose to move sites, and my friends can continue to follow me even after I’ve left that particular community for a different one. It’s about freedom. It’s about community.

I’d seriously suggest listening to the Laconica episode of FLOSS Weekly. If you don’t get excited about OpenMicroblogging from that, then you probably aren’t going to get excited about Microblogging in General. Oh, and if you’re interested, follow me.