RSS=Robert's Stuff is Saved (will it do the same for CNN's Twitter account?)

I’ve been taking lots of bashing for not backing up my blog. I deserved that. Or did I? Several people this weekend have been sending me all the posts that have been deleted. How did they do that, I asked a couple. “RSS,” was the answer. In other words, I had been backing up my blog all along without thinking about it.

“Huh?”

I hurried off to Google Reader, clicked on my folder, and sure enough, there were all my posts.

RSS was automatically backing up my blog to thousands of people’s accounts. Oh, dummy! I’m now rebuilding my posts from those.

This is why I’m excited by another trend I’m seeing happen. RSSCloud. Turns out that WordPress turned on this infrastructure today. Yes, Matt Mullenweg is working on his day off. So is Dave Winer. Geeks! Dave Winer is showing off what happened today on his blog.

Anyway, what is this doing? Well, Dave Winer showed it to me the other day. He’s backing up all my Tweets (here’s my Tweets in XML from today on his server). So, if something goes wrong it’s stored on his server. In a decentralized way. All in real time, or nearly so (at oldest each item is a minute old due to the decentralized ping architecture that RSS Cloud uses, but I’ll let Dave Winer explain more about that.

Now this doesn’t look very important today. But, it’s an interesting building block for a new world where EVERYTHING Tweets.

Don’t believe me that everything will Tweet?

We have buoys in the ocean that Tweet. London’s Tower Bridge Tweets. The US-Canada border crossing Tweets.

Imagine a world where everything Tweets. Now, why do they need to Tweet on Twitter? Aren’t we rebuilding the same world we had in 1993 when lots of us were on CompuServe, Prodigy, or AOL? What came along next? The open web.

So, let’s think about CNN. Why is CNN giving Twitter millions of dollars in free advertising? I keep hearing that we should “follow CNN on Twitter.” Why not “follow CNN’s Tweets at cnn.com/twitter?” Instead of the current “follow CNN on http://twitter.com/cnn.”

Why do we need to care? Well, we’ve already seen what happens when we have a single point of failure: when Twitter is down everything is down. Have you ever seen the entire web go down? I haven’t. Even in high flow events like 9/11, where lots of “professional news sites” were unreachable for a few hours there were lots of other sites with the news that were reachable.

Imagine if emergency resources weren’t available because Twitter’s data center got hit by a huge earthquake? Now you are getting to the core of one of my fears. During the 1989 earthquake KGO Radio went down, but the net stayed up. Centralized resources aren’t the way to go. We saw this when the plane fell into the Hudson, too. We couldn’t get to Janis Krums’ picture, but because his picture was copied by a bunch of different servers we were able to see it other places.

Does CNN serve itself well by not having a backup of its Tweets? No.

Why not?

1. Because right now all the branding power of CNN is being gifted to another brand.
2. Because right now all the Google juice behind twitter.com/cnn is being gifted to another URL that might not be there when CNN needs it to be (during a high-flow event).
3. Because right now Twitter search is inconsistent at best, and doesn’t show Tweets older than a few weeks at worst. So, any useful stuff in CNN’s Twitter account isn’t searchable. If they built their own Twitter they would be able to build their own search that worked the way they wanted it to.
4. Because Twitter has proven that it is perfectly willing to kick accounts off. And sometimes things get hacked. My friend Fred Davis, who is one of the co-founders of Wired Magazine, recently had his Twitter account hacked and had his account closed down. This is why he now Tweets on a vulgar account here. Can CNN or the New York Times afford to let some other organization have that power?
5. Because anything that CNN types into Twitter now becomes subject to Twitter’s Terms of Service. It spells out the potential danger right here: “We reserve the right, in accordance with any applicable laws, to refuse service to anyone for any reason at any time.” What happens if Twitter gets bought by Fox News and Rupert Murdoch wants to charge CNN for its Twitter account? This COULD happen. If CNN built its own Twitter on its own servers then that danger would go away.

But, maybe I’m being alarmist. Either way, I’ve learned a lot this weekend of the power of decentralized distribution. My words are safe. Because they were automatically backed up and distributed to thousands of people and their own accounts. Some people used Google Reader. Other people used RSS aggregators that stored my words on their local computers, like FeedDemon.

Now, what’s stopping us from distributing Tweets this way?

Yes, I know of Twistory, which backs up your Tweets. But here’s the rub, it will only back up the last 3,000 Tweets. I’ve already done many times that. Plus, your backup doesn’t help the ecosystem the way that RSS does. You can’t build search on top of the datastore that Twistory does. You can’t distribute your Tweetstore to everyone else who’s interested, at least not easily.

Anyway, now you know that RSS=Robert’s Stuff is Saved. Today, thanks to RSS Cloud, everyone on WordPress will be safe in a whole new way.