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Identi.ca: What’s the Point?

Note: Contrary to the title’s implication, this is not an anti-microblogging post. Originally a skeptic, I’m converted to the value of microblogging.

Addendum: Please be sure to read some of the very thoughtful comments made by Bob Jonkman, Hein-Pieter Van Braam, Craig, and Odin Omdal Hørthe. They managed to sway my opinion about Identi.ca.

A listener of the Linux Action Show left a comment about a statement I made on the show, something to the effect of, “I’m not on Identi.ca, because…what’s the point?”

I knew right after saying it that would rub a few people the wrong way. I don’t really have anything against Identi.ca. The glib tone of that comment is rooted in something I have asserted many times in my advocacy of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). I’ll state it again, this time in the context of web applications and services.

Let’s first lay out a couple definitions:

  • Identi.ca is a microblogging service that is very similar to Twitter
  • Laconica is the FOSS offering that powers Identi.ca

Onward we go…

Is Laconica Cloneware?

Long, long ago, I posted some thoughts on “cloneware”: free software that simply knocks off the functionality of a proprietary offering mainly for the sake of replicating the proprietary offering. Typically, what results is a cheaper, crappier version of the original. There are notable exceptions, and I hardly mean to suggest that its wrong to replicate just for the sake of doing it. But if the only goal is to replicate–meaning there is no other driving reason such as new innovation–then I don’t expect a very inspiring offering. (SourceForge is littered with many such dead-end projects.)

So is Laconica cloneware? No, I don’t think it is. Laconica is useful. For example, with Laconica organizations can freely implement their own microblogging hosts for whatever need they may have, such as hosting a confidential microblog. Laconica also demonstrates innovation. As an example, it allows you to federate your Laconica host with other Laconica hosts. So, if Laconica perhaps started off as mere cloneware, it then demonstrates that cloneware can beget innovation.

So, my “What’s the point?” comment was not at all aimed at Laconica. It was about Identi.ca. Why would I use Identi.ca?

Religiosity & FOSS: Why I Use Twitter instead of Identi.ca

I disagree with those who feel that we should all use FOSS for the principle of it. That sentiment is arrogant B.S. promoted by those who spend too much time enagaged in technological omphaloskepsis. Sure, you can make a case for how we all need to support OSS at every opportunity, but to me, it starts to sound a lot like religious dogma after a certain point.

I love innovations that provide me with a new and useful tool that just works. So while I advocate Free Software as a great delivery mechanism of new innovations, I have no issue with using a proprietary service that gets a job done. Twitter is a great example of such a service.

Twitter costs me nothing. Usually, it just works. For the price, I’m okay with when it doesn’t. It has an API that gives sufficient freedom for my data. Twitter also has a user base that dwarfs any other Microblogging service, which is very important. Much like Facebook, I can find almost every wired person in one place. The originators of Twitter were responsible for the advent of microblogging, and consequently they have a massive user base. I see nothing inherently evil with Twitter. In my opinion, they earned their success, and I’m comfortable to be one of their millions of users.

So, when I asked “what’s the point?” about Identi.ca, I was being deliberately provocative because I don’t see any advantage to using Identi.ca. Identi.ca cannot lure me away from Twitter merely by virtue of its use of a FOSS offering instead of a proprietary system. As I see it, Identi.ca is simply a knock off of a well-established service. Unlike Laconica, I don’t see its purpose.


11 Responses

  1. I switched to identi.ca for reliability reasons at first when twitter was having it’s problems.

    I didn’t really switch back even when twitter fixed it’s problems because I think identica has it’s own unique personality to it that I’ve grown to like.

    To me Twitter feels like oscon. identi.ca feels like a LUG meeting.

  2. I’ve been fooling with a pseudonymous account on both Twitter and Identi.ca for a few months just to see what all the hubbub is. For the most part, I don’t gain any value from either service that I can’t already get through an IM service, or even plain old e-mail.

    I’ve decided to participate properly, but only with identi.ca. I want to be able to maintain control over my various online identities, and I can always install the Laconica software on my own server, and still participate in identi.ca. Today I find that I can’t search on Twitter for “haeger” without giving Twitter access to at least one of my online e-mail addressbooks. It even wants the password for my e-mail account! All the more reason to avoid Twitter.

    So, what’s the point of identi.ca? The same point that Linux has over MacOS; the same point that OpenOffice has over Microsoft Office — it’s a service that I can use the way I want to use it, and I can participate in improving it.


    (I was installing Ubuntu for someone today, and had him check his Facebook account just to make sure everything worked. Facebook is another one of those dubious services that I have no intention of giving my personal information.)

  3. @Bob:
    In your last paragraph you compare Identi.ca to Linux. That’s apples to oranges. Linux is software. Identi.ca is a service. Laconica is the software that powers Identi.ca. We must keep clear on the difference between software and service.

    But more on the point of my post: just because Identi.ca is powered by FOSS does not change that Identic.ca is a hosted provider, to whose data centers you likely have the same level of access as to Twitter’s. If you’re going to be skeptical of Twitter, why does Identi.ca get a pass? Is it just because they’re using free software?

    Free software powers many dubious services. How many fly-by-night phishing sites are likely hosted using free software? Using proprietary versus free software is no guarantor that the service provider is above board. And providing a service that is powered by proprietary software does not automatically make the service “dubious.”

    By casting “Free vs. Proprietary” in the same mold of “Good vs. Evil,” turns technology into dogmatism, paving the way to numerous logical fallacies.


  4. I think you’re getting his comment wrong, he’s not comparing software vs. service, but freedom vs. non-freedom.

    “Today I find that I can’t search on Twitter for “haeger” without giving Twitter access to at least one of my online e-mail addressbooks.”

    Should identi.ca decide to pull a stunt like that, he can just take his shit somewhere else without impacting his *own* ability to participate in the micro-blogging world.

    I see you have a point to defend here, and that’s fine. But I think that this was not the guy to rail out to, you read ‘Linux’ and ‘Twitter’ and pasted that reply, didn’t you? 😛

  5. @Ted
    I agree with Hein-Pieter. If you don’t like what identica does, you can take your ball and play somewhere else. Don’t like the privacy policy? Are they suddenly spamming you? You get your data, and you can run the software (or just take your data and use another openmicroblogging server). You still participate in the same community, but you cut out the party you don’t like. Or, if Twitter simply goes out of business (which isn’t unlikely, as they do spend massive amount of cash, have tiny revenue, and the economy isn’t forgive to that kind of things right now), and you use Twitter, you’re screwed. If identica goes under, there are other openmicroblogging sites you can use, or you can run your own.

    Free Services are good not just for developers, who can add new features when they want (unlike with Twitter – take a look at some of the features identica has that Twitter doesn’t, like people tagging http://controlezvous.ca/2008/11/24/laconica-063-on-identica/), but also for users who can have the freedom to leave when they want, or pressure their developer friends to make some great new feature or fix some annoying bug they’re dying for.

    It’s the difference between competition and a monopoly. Just like how the telephone world improved after Ma Bell was broken up, the microblogging world is already improving as Twitter is being “broken up” by the Free openmicroblogging services.

  6. Problem here is that Twitter is an proprietary and walled garden that forces you to stay on their service and not go elsewhere. All your friends on Twitter? Twitter fscking with you? Well, loose all your friends or stay with twitter.

    With identi.ca — well, — you can take your data elsewhere *and keep your friends*.

    It’s DISTRIBUTED, that’s a big, big, big +. Do you want to go back to the time when you couldn’t send email to other domains than that you used? aol-to-aol, but not aol-to-msn. That’s how it is now. It’s un-internet-friendly and Twitter, Facebook are just the same.

    Distributed protocols and open standards for all! 🙂

  7. @Craig, Hein-Pieter, and Odin:
    Odin raises a very good point regarding friends lists, which is something about which I was unaware. Taking your friends list with you changes my original point somewhat. That’s an important differentiator.

    Previously, I was thinking in terms of how the Twitter API allows me to take my tweet posts and friends list and go whenever I wish, realizing that I would be giving up functionality in doing so. Identi.ca allows you to take your friends list and posts to a new host (whether your own or not) without giving up functionality.

    This changes my opinion. I stand by my primary point about FOSS and cloning of successful social web applications just to be cloning them, but I now see Identi.ca as a much weaker example case to cite.

    Will I change from Twitter to Identi.ca? Probably not, as I don’t think Twitter will deliberately commit any egregious transgressions against me–to begin with that level of paranoia is more work than dealing with the issue if they ever do. I’m still okay with Twitter (for now). However, I certainly would prefer Twitter to go open, and work toward some interoperability with Identi.ca.

  8. So, where do I go on this site to find the vaunted Open Source Advocacy?

  9. Evan:
    You have to do more than half-read a single post.

  10. I fail to see the need to choose.

    I do see the need for choice.

    Just as I will never choose Firefox – I will always choose Firefox along with a selection of browsers – so if one fails, I have other backup systems.

    when I post, my posts go out on identi.ca and twitter simultaneously – I am fairly unaware of the process, but I notice all my replies listed in a nice Gwibber window for me to see, browse, answer, search or ignore.

    I fail to see any battle, I can’t see any competition.

    The only competition here is the people who think ‘I’m right’ means ‘he’s wrong’

    Actually, they’re both different. There are more issues with Twitter for privacy, and it is closed and completely uncustomisable – yet I use the service. I would not stop using identi.ca to use Twitter, and I have no intention of choosing the best one.

    Learn to live together, and cooperate – isn’t this the lesson we’re learning from the age of the Microsoft domination? where anybody’s website can be crushed in hours by using a nice botnet of microsoft crapware machines?

    Open Source is about something a little better – not coercion, or aggression, and the more you try to argue for it, the more you help people see that Open Source usually means ‘a bunch of idiots, a bit like those crazy Mac zealots and Born Again Christians – let’s all run away!!!’

  11. Ted, another vote in favour of Identi.ca is that users who can’t be bothered hosting their own laconica servers can still connect with other laconica users and vice-versa. Currently if I choose to run my own server, I can’t easily connect to twitter users, but I can easily connect to identi.ca users and others.

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