For me, the value of Twitter rests entirely in instant communication, accessible anywhere, one to many, many to one. I can get onto Twitter and not follow one single person if I want. All I have to do is fire up GTalk, ask Twitter to track some keywords, and I’m plugged into a real-time news feed.
This is a capture from my real-time Twitter stream this morning. Note particularly the last entry from corvida (one of the newest Read/Write Web contributors), whose family’s home was damaged by tornadoes ripping across the Southeast since yesterday. Corvida tells the whole story here.
This is what my GTalk window has looked like for the last 12 hours. Quiet, followed by bursts of reports of tornado outbreaks, high winds, destruction, people shouting out for help, to locate others, to find a safe place, to share their worries with other people out on the stream.
Unless you have lived through a natural disaster of the type that devastates towns and cities capriciously, you cannot understand the value of being plugged in this way. But Corvida did, and she reached out. Be sure you read her whole story. Twitter reached out in a real way and helped her family, as well as four other families who were in need of food tonight.
This can’t happen in decentralized parallel universes. Or to put it today’s political terms, we cannot have red states and blue states, and still be the United States. In Twitter, of course, there are no states; just places where people are.
The value of Twitter is its universality, which is why it cannot be decentralized; at least, not in ways similar to FriendFeed, which I like well enough as an aggregator but do not consider a place to center discussion. For me, Friendfeed is the storage device; Twitter is the capture device. It scans; Friendfeed holds.
Cliff Gerrish has a great explanation for why Twitter cannot be decentralized:
It’s tracking that makes a decentralized Twitter nearly impossible. Think of a 140 character Tweet as a series of space separated tags to which you can subscribe. In this model, you’re following everyone, or at least everyone who uses that particular tag. This feature radically changes the shape of the social graph underlying the information stream. Since you don’t know who might use a tag you’re tracking, the regular RSS style contract around publication and subscription doesn’t work. Track is not commonly used today, but it’s one of the more interesting features of the service.
While there’s a ton of irony in the content of the Techcrunch comments on Steve’s post, particularly with regard to the number of characters he used to convey his thoughts, I’d suggest that they should go back and re-read what Steve wrote, because he’s right.