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.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

43 thoughts on “RSS=Robert’s Stuff is Saved (will it do the same for CNN’s Twitter account?)

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  3. Not sure about your CNN e.g. Scobleiser. They aren't using Twitter because it's a clever piece of tech for short-form newsbites. They're using it because they can get in front of more people more often, because Twitter happens to have lots of users, and provides a method of CNN's fans telling their friends about CNN.

    Re: back-up… if Twitter were to go down, where d'you reckon people would resort to for news? CNN.com wouldn't be a bad bet!

    And re: branding: if CNN don't say “Twitter” in their comms then all those people they're trying to get in front of simply wouldn't know the messages were easy for them to get. And CNN aren't gifting brand power here; they do News, Twitter do distribution of 140 char. messages. They're not competitors, so why not collaborate?

    Sure, Twitter might turn against CNN, or any of the content providers that use it… that's Twitter's risk though – I think they're clever enough to realise how pissed off their users would be if they did stuff like that.

    Anyway, the rest of your post was – as usual – great! It's exciting how much stuff is getting backed up without us having to think about it…… which I think is the major point. Humans don't naturally back stuff up. We like to exist in the moment. That's why we do stuff like forget to back up our blog histories! Personally, I can't wait 'til I never have to think about back-up again.

    Thinking of stuff twice is a waste!

  4. I hope you saved all those posts on how “dead” RSS is. Oh yeah, sorry. I forgot. Those were saved via RSS… Oops!!!

    Yep, RSS… Totally useless, and so, like, passé… Certainly, the thousands (or tens of thousands) of feeds that stream through the average blogger’s reader are also useless and inefficient.

    Sorry. When all the social media whoring is over, and the twitter wars are finished; the empty space (where blog posts go) will still be waiting. And readers will still be using RSS… Unfortunately, having spent there time on tweets, twitters won’t have much to say—or they will have forgotten how to write.

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  6. There's a reason RSSCloud has been around for eight years without catching on — massive scaling and firewall issues for desktop clients that consume RSS. UserLand shut its cloud notification servers down several years ago because they couldn't handle the load, and they had significantly fewer users than many popular WordPress blogs. I go into this on my blog at http://workbench.cadenhead.org/news/3555 .

  7. I created BackupMyTweets to make sure I don't lose my Twitter history. It backs up the most recent 3200 tweets the first time you run it, and then it keeps backing them up every day to make sure you don't ever lose them. http://backupmytweets.com

    We're working on BackupMyBlog as well…

  8. I wonder what exactly can be innovated when it comes to rssCloud and Pubsubhubbub though, as they're really just examples of an architecture to solve a problem (the pubsub architecture).

    Maybe it'll more be down to the innovation that occurs AROUND the technologies. Though again, any innovation applied to one can be applied to another with hardly any effort.

  9. Very cool, you know what this gives real traction to?

    WordPress has a P2 skin that allows you to essentially create your own Twitter locally with a WordPress.org site.

    Combine that with real-time RSS and anyone, with almost no technical expertise, can build their own Twitter using WordPress and use RSS to route it in real time to any service, including Twitter. (I think Zee already does this.)

    It seems like WordPress has been planing on providing an alternative to Twitter for a while now, the P2 template has been out for 5 months. It makes private “Twitter” pages, exactly like you're talking about, already an easy reality for anyone who wants them.

  10. The other alternative Robert if you wanted to keep all your posts backed up on your own computer is of course to use Windows Live Writer to compose them (works with WordPress) and then you have all the past posts there to access. There is also a handy backup program available here http://wlwbackup.codeplex.com/ which allows you to backup all your previous posts to an external drive for example.
    Just a suggestion

  11. Now that you compared the services, I was just reading about the comparisons about various Third Party commenting services like Disqus, which Robert uses and Intensedebate which is now owned by WordPress and wanted to point out the similarity in the situation.

    If you see in this scenario, ID has the backing of WordPress, which is the biggest name in Blog Hosting and Disqus is on its own.

    But when you observe the overall scenario, Disqus has been more innovative and adaptive compared to ID and has been rewarded in form of being used on many major blogs, giving it tremendous exposure.

    So you see, if rssCloud is innovative and performs better than the rival product, it would come out as a winner. Its not like, Google has the hand of Midas – It also has had its share of failed products.

    I just want to see both these products launch well, in the end, the bloggers would have a tremendous benefit and RSS would be restored to its previous glory!

  12. Geeks! Hahaha, aren't we all?

    So has your opinion about WordPress changed now Robert, or you think that you were a bit at fault too, for not having backed up your blog?

    That's that only downside of self hosted WordPress blogs, you have to stay updated and make sure your stuff is backed up. But with this new rssCloud concept coming into play, I think RSS would really pick up and speed up the flow of information on the web, making it much more real-time.

    Very much looking forward to this. As a matter of fact, to check how this works I'm going to install the rssCloud WordPress plugin, which would let even self hosted blogs to push information out, real-time.

    Will keep you posted how this works.

  13. I keep telling this to everyone. RSS is NOT dead, everyone underestimates its power, and now…..your previous posts are retrievable thanks to RSS and a long forgotten feature gets resurrected in the RSSCloud!
    RSS lives! Hurray!

  14. I also wanted to mention that twitter is largely used to post headlines and links.
    so… backing those tweets up is not valuable. capturing click-through data is.
    and that's why the topic of short tracker urls has been hot lately.
    twitter and bit.ly hold the gold on that front.
    having that data is what matters. thats why cnn and everyone should use their own urls if possible.
    bit.ly gives access to the data but not all of it. might as well own it yourself and work on interpretive value.

  15. good points.
    i kind of agree with the CNN example.
    CNN is already ingrained in everyone's mind.
    They can afford to transfer brandability in return for social media penetration and turnkey info architecture (albeit not the greatest ;).
    They are leveraging. It doesnt matter if CNN comes in the form of a preceding “@” or “twitter.com”.
    As long as it is their somewhere it's all good for them.
    Type CNN in your browsers address bar. just CNN. you go right to their site. In google, cnn.com is the first listing. on twitter, cnn.com is linked over on the right not to mention that almost every tweet has a link to their site.

    You are right that CNN could benefit from a complete searchable backup accessible from their own site (or a special twitter service). At the same time, they can be automatically cross-tweeting to their own database creating an archive of short messages. They don't need twitter to help them do this since the API allows for it. And likewise, an RSS feed can be used to populate a database as mentioned already.

    To do it in scalable manner, I would look into MarkXML – http://www.marklogic.com
    And their awesome example of a searchable mailing list archive at http://www.markmail.org

  16. As I keep saying, backing up your tweets has virtually zero value until you can get it *back* on Twitter (or whatever independent service you're proposing that replaces it).

    Two things Twitter, Inc needs to do:

    1. Start saving a heck of a lot more than a week's worth of our stuff
    2. Allow us all to save a backup of our accounts, tweets, interactions etc to our local HD, in case the worst happens. If and when it does, we should be given a restore option. (Twitter is likely doing this anyway, but I'd rather have the facility to do it myself, too.)

    WP backups work because you can easily get your stuff back on WP. Even if it's just a crude cut-and-paste and backdate. You can't do that on Twitter. And so no matter how good an idea it sounds, a backup is effectively useless until Twitter themselves get involved.

  17. For those planning on using this method.. don't forget to enable the full feed option, in what ever blogging tool you are using. (via http://ff.im/7JrlC). Reader even saves tags etc (but skips geotags).

    So where's the link to the RSS->BlogThis utility? I know somebody wrote one!!

  18. So RSS is yet to stay. How I was able to send you all of your lost posts, Outlook. I'm backing up all my RSS feeds on my laptop so as I can refer to the articles whenever I want to, even if I'm offline, which is not usual.

    But what's the point in CNN creating it's own Twitter. CNN is news business. Infact Twitter should take care of past tweets. Twitter should provide archive and it can give a search option if you'd like to search from tweets older than let's say 3 months. That way Twitter will have less load on it's servers.

    CNN does not need to build Twitter, it just needs to back up all tweets, that can be done by RSS. CNN then can provide a search on its backed up tweets. So when someone searches for olders CNN tweets, Google can give back the results. So no need of Twitter search either. All CNN has to do is just keep ready a page with all its previous tweets at one place. Job done!

    But may be that's not what Twitter care right now. Twitter is real time and may be that's why it doesn't care so much about the past tweets. Or may be they'll have to do it soon. I think they should.

    But as of now, I'm in love with RSS!

  19. Griffin Tech (the iPod accessory company) utilizes a tumblog that subscribes to their twitter feed. It works pretty well from what I've heard and allows for easy searching later on.

  20. This is going to be really big and is a bone of contention I have been dealing with since the introduction of Twitter..

  21. Is there room for both rssCloud and Pubsubhubbub? If not, which one will win? rssCloud now has WordPress.com, but that's just one victory. Pubsubhubbub has Google behind it, and that means quite a few services (potentially), see http://code.google.com/p/pubsubhubbub/wiki/Hubb….

    They both basically do the same thing, and in roughly the same way (as far as I can tell from my experiments so far with Pubsubhubbub, and reading about rssCloud).

  22. It’s revealing that you chose to focus on Twitter, when the problem of relying on 3rd party publishing/storage solutions extends to many companies. By being so close minded you essentially gloss over what is an incredibly large issue on the web. Congratulations for being a donkey. I imagine someone as idiotic as yourself will get hacked again. I will laugh as I am laughing now. Tool.

  23. Twistory’s 3000-tweet limit is from the Twitter API not of the Twistory application itself. Ditto the search applications’ time limits.

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