Why it is too late to regulate Facebook

Facebook mat on 151 University

I’ve seen a lot of angst over the past week about Facebook’s moves to open up your data to other applications.

To really understand how huge these changes are I had to get away from Silicon Valley and come and hang out with the geeks in Kinneret, Israel where famous VC Yossi Vardi is throwing an exclusive camp for geeks and successful business innovators.

To be sure, there is some fear and even a bit of hatred here of Facebook. Let’s detail that fear and hate:

1. Facebook has broken an invisible privacy contract with its users. Most of the geeks here say they expected Facebook to be about sharing photos, videos, and thoughts with friends and family. But now their previously private data is showing up on Yelp, Pandora, and Spotify. That wasn’t expected by the users, so has generated quite a bit of discussion here.
2. Facebook is very quickly painting the web with little like buttons and other social widgets. One CEO I talked with, who asked me to keep his name and company name out of this article but who runs one of the top 50 websites according to Comscore and Compete.com, told me his company will add Facebook’s likes next week. He’s not the only one saying that. My prediction that 30 of the top 100 Websites would incorporate Facebook’s likes in the first few months might turn out to be very low, based on what I’m hearing in Israel. But that does worry geeks here who are seeing that Facebook is very quickly getting their fingers (and branding) into a very large chunk of the web.
3. I’m sharing a room with one of Yahoo’s search strategists here at Kinnernet and, while he wasn’t able to tell me what direction Yahoo is going in, it’s clear that Facebook has disrupted his thinking of where the world is going. If Yahoo is feeling the disruption imagine what it must be like over at Google! Facebook is studying metadata from all these likes and other behavior of ours and I believe is preparing new kinds of search and discovery services. Facebook doesn’t need to “kill” Google to have quite an effect, either. They just need to put a box around Google which would keep Google from growing. What happens when Google can’t grow the way it wants to? Flat stock prices and loss of ability to hire the best employees that comes with it. Google is the new Microsoft, the geeks here say.
4. The geeks here say that it is clear that Facebook is becoming a dramatically more important, and larger, company than they expected. So, now, new business plans are being changed to account for Facebook’s new power and stance in the world.

So, why is it too late to regulate Facebook?

Well, first of all, what can government do?

1. They can force Facebook to switch its defaults on its new Instant Personalization program, which is already being used by Yelp and Pandora (you can see which music I listen to, for instance, on Pandora, and that feature got turned on automatically. The government could force Facebook to turn that feature off by default and make me “opt in” for you to see my Pandora music.
2. They could fine Facebook for its behavior.
3. They could call Mark Zuckerberg in front of Congress and call him nasty names.

But what else could the government do? I don’t see too many options. Do you?

So, why is it too late to regulate Facebook?

1. The damage is done. Well, let’s assume they made them switch Instant Personalization to opt in. Who cares? The damage is done. My Pandora already has all your music shared with me. Most Facebook members won’t change their privacy settings from what they already are. So, old users will keep sharing their music and only new members will be asked to opt in to these new privacy-sharing features.
2. The regulation will come too slowly. Government never moves fast. Even when it’s motivated. So Zuckerberg has at least a few months to aggregate his power before Government slaps him on the hand. Government is not going to be able to prevent that top 50 website from putting Facebook’s new features into its service. Government will not keep me from using Pandora.
3. The regulation will come after we get used to new privacy landscape. Already I’m finding I’m getting used to the fact that you all can see my data and that I can see yours. So, if Government comes along and tries to regulate that it will get pushback from me. Why? Well, I actually like the new Pandora features. I’m finding a ton of cool music because Zuckerberg forced you to give up some of your privacy. So what that I can see that you like Kenny G? Users will get addicted to these new features and they won’t take kindly to some government jerk taking away these new features.
4. Giving Zuckerberg a fine will not change Facebook’s behavior. If anything it will just push him to monetize these features more aggressively in order to pay the fine. Just wait until Cocacola icons show up next to all those Facebook like buttons. Government taxation, which really is what fines are, might have a negative effect long term.

So, what can be done about Facebook? I don’t see what we can do about Facebook. Not enough people have changed their behaviors due to these changes. I’m watching and these features are VERY popular. Even here in Israel, far from the hype bubble of Silicon Valley, all the geeks I talked with are impressed with the new features and many are already implementing them. No one sees Facebook as less powerful or less interesting today than two weeks ago. Even with a few of my geeky friends saying they deleted their accounts from Facebook my feed there is actually moving faster lately and my items are getting more engagement, which shows that not many geeks changed their behavior away from Facebook.

Zuckerberg just played chicken with our privacy and it sure looks like he won based on what I’m hearing here in Israel.

What do you think?

Mark Hurd: HP's international man of mystery

HP's CEO, Mark Hurd

Last Friday I spent a couple of hours with Phil McKinney. He oversees the long-range technical strategy, research and development and innovation programs for Hewlett-Packard’s (HPQ) Personal Systems Group (PSG) as the Vice President and Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

He was interviewing me for a future podcast, but after that was over we just had a nice informal chat. I had my Apple iPad with me and he told me that he loved it, too, and was just finishing three years of work on HP’s slate, coming soon.

I didn’t think anything of this confidence (only confident people love their competitors’ hottest products) but after HP announced it was buying Palm it all made sense.

This is a new, confident, HP.

But what about the man behind the new HP? It’s Mark Hurd, HP’s CEO, everyone told me.

Thanks to JD Lasica for the photo of him.

The thing is, he doesn’t show up to HP’s press events. He doesn’t give interviews. I haven’t seen him on stage at many industry conferences (even the usually secretive Steve Jobs is speaking this year at the All Things D conference).

But as I looked around that conference room in HP I noticed that not only were they confident, but they were having fun again.

Why?

Because, they told me, Mark is focusing all of his energy on executing and isn’t micromanaging and isn’t doing anything negative, the way that Carly Fiorina did. The dislike of Carly sure seeps out of people when you get them to talk. One employee I talked with who has worked at HP for a very long time (so long she still calls it Hewlett Packard on her emails) told me I’d have to work very hard to find anyone at HP who supports Carly.

It makes sense that Mark would be the opposite of Carly because of this hatred of everything Carly stood for.

What has Mark done to reverse Carly’s moves?

1. He’s reached out to the Hewlett and Packard families. Carly pissed them off.
2. He stays away from the press. Carly loved getting press and was adept at talking with the press.
3. He doesn’t micromanage, letting his people work on their jobs. Carly was seen as a micromanager who loved to get involved in things.
4. He focuses on good acquisitions that add value to HP, like the one announced yesterday, not ones that are seen as destructive to HP.
5. He adds value to shareholders, while Carly was seen as destroying value.

I’ve heard a few other stories too, about how Mark has made some moves to protect HP’s image worldwide and enhance it.

It’s amazing how HP has become a company to watch and now that Apple is tarnishing its brand by sending the cops after bloggers it looks like Mark is well positioned to step into the role as the international man of mystery in the tech industry. He has just moved into the top position in tech industry leadership.

Do you agree he is the top tech industry leader now?

BREAKING NEWS: Siri bought by Apple

Back in February I said that if you miss Siri you will miss the future of the Web.

Well, Apple did not miss the future of the Web.

According to FTC Apple just purchased Siri.

If previous acquisitions by Apple are an indicator this would have gone for 8x to 10x investments, which would have put the price at about $200 million. Since this company/product just came out this year (I named it one of the startups to watch in 2010) it would have had to go for that amount or more to get the investors interested in selling so soon.

I remember when I first saw Siri I told the CEO that they would get into a bidding war with someone bidding vs. Google. I would not be shocked to hear that happened.

Great to see one of my favorite startups of the year going so quickly. Wow.

Why is this strategic for Apple?

Because Siri hooked up APIs from around the world in a very cool personal assistant. It was one of the first apps I loaded on my iPad. Why? Because you could talk to it with your voice and have it do things from getting you a taxi to having it buy movie tickets for you.

The value in unlocked is huge. This shows Apple is very willing to buy its way into the new mobile web and the new API-driven web. This also could be a major cornerstone in how it competes with Google.

Why I have faved 18,456 Tweets (why Twitter is dominant in tech industry)

In just the past year I’ve clicked to fave 18,456 Tweets. It’s a stunning number, if you think about it, and I don’t know of any other tech blogger who has done more faves.

What am I learning? Well, for one, there’s important stuff that gets written that doesn’t get on Techmeme. Yes, the important stuff does, like when a blogger for Gizmodo gets his house broken into by the cops. That’s big time on Techmeme, but page through my faves and you’ll find lots of other stuff that Techmeme doesn’t touch.

Even for things that get on Techmeme, I’ve seen that stories break first on Twitter. Gabe Rivera, the guy who runs Techmeme, told me he’s noticed that too and said he’s about to add some Tweets to Techmeme. It will be interesting to see what he does.

But I’ve come to realize that curating great tech tweets is one thing I love to do and one way I can add a lot of value to the tech industry.

Tonight my boss, Rob La Gesse, agreed and — in a redesign of my blog that he worked on — we added a widget that displays my latest favorite Tweets on my blog. The widget itself is worth talking about: it’s done by Publitweet which is helping lots of journalistic organizations use Twitter on their sites. You’ll notice that Publitweet’s widgets include sharing links for Twitter and Facebook and include pictures and expand links to have more info. I really love the new widgets and you’ll see me use more of them in the future.

So, why do I fave tweets?

1. Because I like rewarding those who take the time to teach me something.
2. Because no other tech blogger was doing this and I felt it’s important to watch the industry.
3. Because it is a fun game to find something interesting in Twitter before anyone else does (I regularly beat big bloggers to news).
4. Because doing all those favorites has built a database that others can study. For instance, Favstar.fm builds a list of everyone I’ve faved here. Do you know definitively who your favorite Twitterer is? I do and can prove it.
5. Because I hate “Follow Friday.” It’s really lame to say “follow @scobleizer” but it’s not lame to have a stream of hand-picked Tweets that everyone can check out and find someone new to follow.
6. Because my favorites are part of my content streams on FriendFeed and, now, on my blog here. It lets me get some value out of my reading time. Plus, over on FriendFeed I can search through all of them, something I can’t do anywhere else.
7. Now that there’s an audience of people who read my faves I find that I get thanks from people who get faved because they get more traffic. Even better, now people DM me when they think they have a great tech tweet that I shouldn’t miss.

Anyway, I hope you all get some value out of my Twitter favorites. Even if you didn’t, I’d still do them because they are useful to me and that’s all that really matters anyway.

Oh, and I have a Twitter list of my favorite 500 Twitterers. I always look at this list first in the morning. It’s amazing how true the old adage is that says “past results are the best predictor of future results.” In other words, it’s amazingly true that whoever brought me value yesterday will probably bring me value tomorrow. To me this list is gold and is reason enough to have clicked favorite on all those Tweets.

But that gets me to a bigger point: WHY IS TWITTER DOMINANT IN THE TECH INDUSTRY?

See, I watch Google Buzz more than almost any other tech blogger. Same over on Facebook. They simply don’t have anywhere close to the numbers and quality of status messages that Twitter does. At least if all you care about is geeky topics. For normal people Facebook is dominant, but for the tech industry? Well, Twitter is very dominant.

Why is that? I believe it’s the little features like Favorites and the clients like TweetDeck and Seesmic. I’ve walked into more than one tech company and been greeted by black screens with Tweetdeck on them. I see those scattered around my employer, Rackspace, too. It’s how we keep in touch with our customers and make sure we keep them all happy.

The tech industry is a sharing industry. That ethos came out of the user groups that I’ve often attended (I’ll be attending a new one next week in Tel Aviv, Israel, and one met yesterday here to share info on iPad development). By having everything in public view, we’ve made it easier to share. Easier to favorite. Easier to retweet. Easier to search.

That’s why Facebook is trying to push for a more public world. Twitter is already there.

An inch closer to the end of privacy (thanks Facebook!)

Facebook LogoPandora logo

If the end of privacy is so evil, so awful, so unthinkable, then why am I liking the new Pandora so much?

See, in the past three days since Facebook announced major new changes to its social contract with all of us, I’ve been able to study my friends’ personal musical tastes in a way I couldn’t just four days ago.

Here, come on over to the new Pandora on my screen. I click on “Friends’ Music” and now let’s look through what I can see.

I see that Aaron Roe Fulkerson, MindTouch’s Inc founder and CEO, listened to Toad the Wet Sprocket. I bet he didn’t quite realize that I’d be able to see that a week ago.

I see that Adrian Otto, chief of research at the Rackspace Cloud (where I work at), listens to Kenny G. I bet he didn’t quite realize that I’d be able to see that a week ago. Aside: Kenny G, really dude? Heheh.

I see that Alan Cooper, father of Visual Basic, and head of a famous software design studio that bears his name, listens to the Barenaked Ladies. I bet he didn’t quite realize that I’d be able to see that a week ago.

Should I keep going? I have 1,300 friends over on Facebook and a lot of them use Pandora.

To me this is freaking awesome. I have found more music in the past week than I’ve found in the past year.

Oh, yeah, and you can see my own account and see how my musical tastes are changing thanks to this new feature.

But, on the other hand, this new feature has heralded a new age where we move closer to the end of privacy.

While listening to music that now is shared by all my friends I’ve been reading thousands of words about how Facebook screwed its contract with us to keep our stuff private.

Here’s one thread from DeWitt Clinton that talks about why he deleted his Facebook account. Here’s a story on Techcrunch about a bunch of Google employees leaving Facebook. And finally, here’s yet another thread, started by Louis Gray, about those employees leaving Facebook (in the comments there I lay out why Google’s employees made the wrong decision).

If you read those posts — and all the comments in them — you’ll see that there’s a lot of people who are very disappointed with Facebook’s moves pushing us all to be more public.

Personally I have not taken a good stance on this lately in public.

First, what has been my public stance? Privacy is dead.

Why did I take that stance? Because, personally, I’m bored with the discussion about privacy.

Why am I bored?

Because the people who are against having their previously-private stuff shared with the world (whether it was when Google Buzz shared my email connections that I made in Gmail with everyone, or it was when Facebook forced everyone to accept being public and to reconfigure their privacy settings and, in some cases, taking away a few ways to keep their stuff between them and their friends) don’t discuss is my Pandora example above. They don’t admit that there’s a lot of goodness that comes from pushing us to be more public with our lives.

The truth is I — as a user — get more features everytime the industry moves us toward a more public world.

Google did this when they put a cookie on my machine that nearly never expired. I remember employees at Microsoft thinking that that was a horrid move against their privacy (they knew that that meant that their surfing behavior could be studied by Google at a rate that Microsoft’s search engine wouldn’t be able to do because Microsoft had a stricter stance toward protection of privacy). I remember telling those employees to get over it and that soon our entire online lives would be shared and that Google would gain massive adoption because of the features that afforded it.

Google is NOT blameless here. They have moved us a long way toward a world where we have no privacy. Even Google’s CEO’s home address was shared with the world via Google. Today we are sharing that kind of data with each other all the time as we post stuff with geotags applied to it or check in on Foursquare or Gowalla.

But last week was about Facebook’s moves and Facebook pushed us another inch toward the cliff of no more privacy. Is that scary? Well, yes! But is it good too? Well, yes! Here, listen to my Pandora music again and tell me you don’t like being able to study my previously-private life in even more glorious detail.

The truth of the matter is that we are going to live our lives from now on — at least in part — in public and we need a new kind of privacy contract with the companies that use our data.

Tonight we started that discussion where I asked my Twitter followers what the last bastion of privacy is?

We ended up that the last bastion of privacy is control. I recorded an audio CinchCast to talk about that. Control of the ability to tell our life’s story.

In that audio I told you that we are no longer in control of how our life’s story gets shared with others. For some, like me, we’ve crossed over to where we accept that loss of control. Others still hold onto the — in my view, mistaken — belief that they can control what others learn about them.

That is privacy: control of our human story. Last week Facebook took something we thought we had control of and gave it away. That pisses off a lot of people, but on the other hand, I gotta say I am loving my new Pandora music that that change brought to me.

And thus we have moved an inch closer to the end of privacy whether you like it or not.

So, now what?

1. We need new skills to deal with our new lack of privacy. How do we make sure Facebook doesn’t share what we don’t want shared? There’s lots of discussion on that around the web but we need more.
2. We need a more nuanced discussion about privacy. It’s not just about “never take my private stuff and make it public.” If it were, we wouldn’t have gotten the new Pandora features we just got last week.
3. We need more control over our data so that we can easily figure out what is going where. With Facebook it’s hard to figure that out now (I solved that by just making everything I do public, but others don’t want to live the same way I do).
4. What else? Add your thoughts to the conversation and what privacy means to you.

Talk to you later, I’m off to meet Thomas Hawk where we’ll walk around a car show in Half Moon Bay — in public — and take pictures. You’re welcome to join us. Bring your stash of great music. Oh, yeah, bring your iPhones! :-)

Facebook's ambition

Is this how the web looks to Facebook?

Ambition.

It’s the one word that kept coming up in conversations I had around the halls today at Facebook’s F8 event. Whenever I heard that word it was clear we were talking about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Compared to last week’s weak moves by Twitter, where its CEO barely even announced anything, yesterday’s moves by Facebook were huge.

OK, I heard another few words:

“Visionary.”

“Scary.”

“Huge.”

“Unbelieveable.”

“Blown away.”

“Zuck has balls.” or “Facebook has balls.”

“Big moves.”

Heck, listen to David Kirkpatrick, who worked for Fortune for more than 20 years and just finished a book, Facebook Effect, about Facebook. I catch up with him here before the press conference, which happened just after Zuckerberg and team made tons of announcements:

Listen to the words he uses: “This is not just another company, it is a transformational phenomenon.”

“It is really great, but it is really scary in some ways too.”

By the way, after I talk with David I talk with quite a few other movers and shakers in the tech press in that video so you can get a sense of how we all reacted to the news. Then, at about 20 minutes into that video you get to see the full press conference (I have the only video of it on the Web that I’ve seen so far).

Before I explain more about what I mean when I say Facebook wants to own your digital fingerprints, there are a few other reactions I want to get in here. The first is with a couple of guys from the National Hockey League. Listen to how excited they are about the new features they turned on yesterday on NHL.com. You can “like” every player there. Some players already have hundreds of likes in just the first few hours.

Then watch how Pandora’s CTO, Tom Conrad, describes Facebook’s moves and how Pandora is now much more social because of these changes. “Mark is right when he says Web experiences want to be social.”

Finally, head over to Facebook’s official site and watch some of the videos if you haven’t seen them yet.

WHY IS THIS SO AMBITIOUS?

These moves are ambitious for a few reasons:

1. It gets Facebook plastered all over the web. Already Facebook likes are on many many sites and I’d expect to see Facebook’s new social features to show up on at least 30% of the web’s most popular sites within a month.
2. It lets us apply our social graph “fingerprint” to sites we visit. You do this by adding social plugins to your site, which is pretty easy to do.
3. It lets us apply our behavior “fingerprint” to sites we visit. Again, by adding social plugins onto your sites.
4. Facebook gets to study everything we touch now and will bring a much more complete stream back to the mother ship. This lets them build new analytics features for publishers, too, as All Facebook’s Nick O’Neill writes, but now Facebook will have the best data on the web for advertisers to study.
5. Facebook gets us to keep our profile data up to date. Marketer Ed Dale nailed why this is such a big deal.
6. Facebook gets to overlay a commerce system, called Credits, on top of all this. Justin Smith of Inside Facebook writes about that.
7. Facebook has opened up to enable all this stuff to flow back and forth and has removed the 24-hour limitation on storing data gained from its API. This is probably the biggest deal for developers, Inside Facebook writes about that, but they’ve also made their API more granular so that sites can ask for, and get, very specific data instead of getting everything stored on a user. We’ll be talking about this for a while, because it actually has good implications for privacy.
8. All this new data will enable Facebook to build new kinds of search experiences, as All Facebook hints at in a post where they say Facebook is trying to build a version fo the semantic web. Search Engine Land goes further in detail about what these changes will mean.
9. It lets Facebook minimize the need for a “public” fan page, like mine. Inside Facebook explains more in detail why this is true. Mostly because they’ll spit all those bits over onto my blog, if I add the code to my blog (which I’m pretty sure I will).
10. Finally a stream of focused bits for the people who are actually visiting your page can be pushed back out to you, as Inside Facebook demonstrates.
11. They made the API much simpler and shipped a powerful graph API so more developers can build apps for Facebook (this has been one of the advantages of Twitter, for instance, because Twitter’s API was simple to figure out). Heck, you can even hit it from a web browser to see what it returns. Here is what it returns for http://graph.facebook.com/scobleizer (if you want to try it yourself, just include your Facebook name instead of mine).

All this Web belongs to me

Is this all a deal with the devil, as RWW asks? Absolutely! Sebastien Provencher has another concern: that Facebook will gather data but not sure the goodies back (like analytics and monetization). GigaOm’s Liz Gannes notes that Facebook now is a single point of failure for the Web. Leo Laporte says he won’t use the new Facebook features on his sites. Dave Winer goes even further and says that the answer to all this must be “no.”

These are legitimate concerns. Let’s explore why:

Let’s key in on #2: your social graph — the people connected to you in various ways — is a fingerprint. My social graph is different than yours. So, when I click “like” on a hockey player on NHL, I’ve applied my fingerprint to that hockey player. Now what if 1,000 other people do that? That site really has a lot of details about the average user that’s visiting: details they never would have had access to before. But that’s not what’s scary. What’s scary is the traffic boost that these sites will get. Why? Because those 1,000 people will drag all their friends over. Actually, no, that’s not scary either.

What we’re really scared about is another very powerful company is forming. One that we don’t yet fully trust. Heck, just a few years ago Facebook erased me from the web for 24 hours. I can’t forget that, even though now I’m good friends with most of the Facebook execs. Let’s say Facebook wanted to kick you off the system, it could, and that could have deep implications for your business, career, etc.

Now go further, we’re all going to be very addicted to Facebook’s new features very quickly. The website that doesn’t have Facebook “likes” on it will seem weird in a few months. In a few years? Almost every site, I predict, will have them, and the other components that you can check out above (and more that will come soon, both from Facebook as well as other developers).

My fears are that Facebook might turn evil and use its position against organizations, the way that Apple locks out organizations from shipping apps (do you have Google Voice app on your iPhone yet? I don’t). Imagine if Facebook wanted to turn off the New York Times, for instance. It could. And that’s a LOT of power to give to one organization, even one that’s earned my trust like Facebook has. This is why I keep hoping Google has a clue (so far it hasn’t).

Tomorrow during the Gillmor Gang I’ll try to talk about the identity fingerprints that Facebook now has under its control. It is a scary world, but one that has huge benefits to all of us.

Today I told someone like I felt like I was at the completion of a major piece of commerce infrastructure that would affect our lives for decades. I likened it to the cross-continental railroad. Remember that? Well it changed the world. It opened the west. Made new careers possible. Let fresh food from California get to Chicago before it spoiled and all that. But it created an organization that had a LOT of power that wasn’t always used well.

Today I told Zuckerberg that he now has the modern-day railroad in his grasp and challenged him to both win our trust and not abuse the major power he’s going to aggregate.

So far I’m hearing all the right things from him and the employees around him. They know that this is a major, ambitious, move and they are going to move carefully and deliberately from here. They better or else we’ll see regulators move into control this business like we’ve never seen in our industry. One CEO, who asked not to be named, told me in the hallways today that Facebook is now a utility that the industry is going to rely on and he noted that utilities usually are heavily regulated to make sure that they don’t abuse the power they have over people and businesses.

The moves Facebook made today ARE that significant. Don’t miss Facebook’s ambition.

Oh, and if you’d like to hear more later today we’ll do a special Gillmor Gang and we’ll have Bret Taylor of Facebook on to fill in more details at noon Pacific Time. Watch building43 live then.

Developers: how will we all get along with Twitter's annotation feature?

Today at the Twitter Chirp Hack Day I talked with a ton of developers and the new feature they were most interested in. Adam Jackson echoed everyone I’ve heard today when he tweeted “Twitter Annotations is what I’ve been wanting FOREVER.”

We’ll be posting those interviews next week on building43 but there’s a lot of questions and not a whole lot of answers as to what Annotations are, so I figured I’d post what I learned today.

First, Annotations let Twitter clients attach metadata onto a Tweet.

Some things I’ve learned:

1. Annotations can be up to 512 bytes in length (although that limit hasn’t been decided for certain yet). That would let you put slightly more characters into the metadata payload than would be allowed in a tweet.
2. The metadata can ONLY be written at the time the Tweet is published and can NOT be changed or written later.
3. To get around limitations of non-updateability developers are already working on systems to point out from the metadata to other systems that CAN be updated.
4. Twitter has not disclosed how this metadata will be displayed yet (this feature will only be available to developers at first, later will be turned on first on Twitter.com and maybe not used at first on Twitter’s other clients).
5. There aren’t many rules as to what can be in this metadata. YET. All the devs I’ve talked to say they expect Twitter to “bless” namespaces so the industry will have one common way to describe common things. More on that in a second, but Steven Hodson already explained well why this new metadata payload could turn into a nightmare for Twitter. Twitter has already started communicating about some of the rules that will be coming.
6. Annotations won’t be available until next quarter, in other words, at least not until July.
7. Not sure what the experience would be like on all Twitter clients (obviously they won’t be able to be delivered to SMS clients, for instance).
8. There are a few more details already on the Twitter Development Talk list.

So, what could this be used for?

Well, let’s just imagine a developer comes up with something new he’d like to build into his clients. For instance, today at Chirp it was sunny, so I came up with a feature for describing the weather at the location where you’re tweeting from.

The old way of describing the weather was to say “nice weather in San Francisco” in a Tweet. But that takes almost 30 characters of your 140 to do.

So, why not build a new iPhone app that lets you select the weather when you tweet? (Or, even better, automatically go out to an API at weather.com or something like that, grab the current weather for the location you’re at, and shove that into the annotations metadata payload).

Sound simple enough? It is.

Except what if my app describes sunny weather this way:

weather=sunny

but some other developer wants to describe it this way:

weather=nice

And yet another developer wants to describe it this way:

weather=80 degrees fahrenheit with no clouds

And yet another developer wants to describe it this way:

weather=blue sky

Get the problem? Every client would need to figure out what the string in the metadata really was trying to say and they each might get it wrong, or might not work because some other developer used a format they weren’t expecting.

So, now, we have to have an industry conference for deciding on the right way to describe weather and we need to argue about it forever which will keep everyone from shipping a client that actually works and does something useful for users. Damn, all I wanted to do was put a nice sunny logo on my tweet in Tweetie!

Imagine this argument happening for everything.

Television show=”Lost”
Movie=”Kick Ass”
Location=”1 Market, San Francisco, CA”

I can imagine lots of ways to describe each of these things, can’t you?

Heck, to IMDB “Kick Ass” is actually “http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1250777/

And so on, and so forth. Mahendra gave some other examples of how Annotations could be used.

But it gets worse than that.

I might want to point my tweets at a commenting system, but Disqus will use a different code than JS-Kit will. So, now we’ll have different commenting systems that can’t be replaced later. What if Disqus goes out of business, or changes their strategy or name? Now my old Tweets won’t work?

One nice thing is Twitter’s dev team is taking an open approach with this. They want to hear from developers on their development talk page (just opened) about how you’ll want to use this new feature.

My real question is “can we all get along?”

Why is this important? Well, this lets developers build new curation, bundling, and other systems. I hope the industry can get it right.

Have you started thinking about Annotations? How will you use them?

UPDATE: I’ve been putting other posts, like this one from Liz Gannes, about the Chirp conference, onto my Twitter Favorites Feed.