Orange (or lemon) juice and microblogs…

Reflecting on the different models of microblogs (those websites where you send frequent status updates, usually no larger than 140 characters), it seems to me that there is, beyond the subtle distinctions between the various platforms, a basic distinction can be made between two types of conversational models: one in which you can add actual comments to a given status, and another where you can only comment by “answering” with another status message, addressed to the person you want to respond.

Undeniably this latter model is by far the dominant, being adopted by Twitter (and in quite similar manner, also by the most recent Identi.ca), absolutely the first in terms of user base, when compared to all competitors. The “problem” (if we want to call it in this way) is that Twitter was not born as a tool for conversation: conversely, are the users themselves who invented the basic outline of “response”, in adopting the convention now widely known to precede the username with “@” to indicate that a certain status is in response of the status of the given user.
Twitter itself has many advantages and peculiar characteristics, but here I want just to highlight how the conversational model is adopting may sound restrictive in many cases. Just an example, to clarify my point: let’s suppose that – taken a beautiful day by a irrepressible curiosity – I write down in my preferred microblog the question “do you prefer orange or lemon juice?”

If I am in a Twitter-like microblog, each user will respond with a message in his own microblog, with a link to my question. My dear friend (so to say) Ciccio Baciccio – which closely follows all my status updates – will see, however, only those responses whose extenders are by chance also his contacts. Those of others (which I do not reply directly to my turn, then producing a link to them) are not visible at all, for Ciccio Baciccio. He can’t even guess their number. Not a great problem, ordinarily. Unless he is interested, for some reason, to the full spectrum of responses to my important question, regardless of who is the sender of the items.

On the other hand, on a “conversational” platform, all the answers collected so far would be present, sorted by time, appended to my original post. And readily available, without having to “jump” from one site to another, in addition. Imagine a post that collects enough feedback (here is an example in Jaiku, or another in Qaiku), how might it became a complex thing in Twitter (for the latter of course I can not put a link, bacause is not contained in one page only).

This is not to say that one approach is necessarily better than the other: instead, it is conceptually different (it’s not correct to compare apples with pears, as they also teach at school).

Anyway … it is also true that everyone knows how frustrating is trying to reconnect the wires of an extended conversation on Twitter, or also keep tracks of what happened if by chance you has been away for a while …

What do you think about it? Can it be a real problem for Twitter, or the model for which the replies and the posts belong to the same category, will win anyway? After all, not always the “best solutions” are the ones who win (I am lead to think of the history of VHS vs. Betamax, for instance, or of the diffusion of Windows compared to OS X and Linux…)

Derived from an original post in Italian (with a little help of Google Translator)

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