Free the Fail Whale!

I think it’s time to “pull a VISA” and free the Fail Whale.

Back in the early days of credit cards, the banks were facing competitive and processing challenges. A number of them came together create this thing called VISA – an idea to develop and provide common standards and processing infrastructure for their competing cards. Well I think it’s time to do it again for this thing called public micro-messaging. Here’s why.

With 3000% year over year growth, it’s no question that Twitter is here to stay. It’s also increasingly clear that what’s behind the phenomenon is something bigger… as Om Malik observed back on April 14th, 2009:

“Twitter is just the beginning of this real-time internet
– the simplest manifestation of this long term trend –
that spells the end of communications and start of an interaction society.”

What’s going on here is the emergence of a new medium based on the public micro-message (PMM) – the most accessible, interactive public medium in our history.

Sounds pretty nifty, doesn’t it? Well, here’s the catch. Every message posted is a public object that may be called upon at any time. Combined with the rapid increase in number of users, the number of posts per user, and the number of services publishing PMMs, PMM services and application developers face a massive data processing challenge. Already, Twitter struggles to provide a stable application infrastructure and user experience despite prominent venture capital backing and technical investment.

This is just the beginning. Dave Winer puts forward a good case of why there will be many more Twitters – and Dave’s a smart guy, so what happens when we have 10 more services and 100 times the activity? Not only does the data processing challenge grow but we run headfirst into issues of disconnected silos of public micro-messages and limited interoperability. Finally, the total reach of the medium is directly affected by global SMS interoperability which is currently a costly and cumbersome country by country issue.

Unaddressed, these issues will undoubtedly limit the value that can be realized from this medium. And that helps no one. So now what?

It’s time to pull a VISA.

Responding to these challenges requires a universal system, standards, and SMS gateway for public micro-messages – in other words a network-grade infrastructure. The core of this system could operate as a layer below Twitter acting as a scalable, interoperable PMM processing infrastructure connecting PMM services and facilitating real-time access to an aggregated PMM data-set. It could operate as an infrastructure to PMM services upon which they can build robust and scalable services and enable an ecosystem of applications. In my view it would have to: enable a vibrant ecosystem of PMM services and applications, provide unrestricted access to the aggregated PMM data-set, ensure authors have access to and control over their prior messages, be scalable to the global population, and be optimized for public benefit.

This might sound ambitions but I believe it entirely possible. Whether through leveraging some existing technologies like XMPP, Hadoop, and or attracting some of the worlds top developers from the telecom or financial exchange markets to create a new infrastructure – it is a shared, soluble problem that unlocks enormous opportunity.

So what’s next?

I’ve been making some forays into making this happen and think it’s something that can be tackled by scoping and exploring the 3 components of the solution (system, standards, SMS gateway) and getting the key players in a room together to create the thing they all need to make the most of the medium. Players like Twitter,, Google, World Wide Web Foundation, and the mobile industry and others have a very real interest in seeing this happen. How could it not be worth giving it a try?

And just think, if we do this, Twitter could finally retire their faithful Fail Whale. I for one would like to set it free. What about you?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]