A Couple of Needles for a Tiny Thread

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So if you’re on Twitter, you are almost certainly aware by now that Joshua Schachter (of del.icio.us fame) just launched a personal project called A Tiny Thread. It’s a nice idea: piggyback off of the Twitter identity system [and take note of that, identity/SSO geeks] and create conversation spaces.

This neatly and rather elegantly addresses one frequent Twitter complaint: that it’s all too common for any given user to see only disconnected fragments of a conversation that’s happening on Twitter (since you may not follow all the people involved), and even those fragments that you see are likely spread in and amongst the many other unrelated tweets in your timeline.

The use case is pretty clear: instead of a jerky, erratic stream of @replies all happening on Twitter, a participant in the conversation goes to tinythread.com and creates a new thread, at which point an automatic tweet is generated from their Twitter account: “I started a thread: Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter, and (inevitably) Hitler http://a.tinythread.com/foo”. The first time someone comments on that thread, they too emit an automatic tweet noting that they’ve joined. Twitter becomes a way to track what conversations are happening and who’s participating, but the actual conversation happens off Twitter, in a coherent, unified forum.

Since this thing is only hours old it’s not particularly productive to dig into detailed criticism, but I’ll toss out the two points that immediately come to mind for me:

  1. Will the conversation data be open and API-accessible? I’m intrigued by the idea here, but if we can’t get at the data this feels like a dead end.
  2. Yes, it’s generally better to launch quickly with a minimal interface, and there are huge benefits to focusing on simplicity, but as it is now the interface isn’t actually very good at facilitating (i.e. displaying) conversation. Joshua (and pretty much everybody else, really) might spend some time on YouBeMom.com, a site created by a splinter faction from the Urban Baby message boards. Create an account, log in, and watch: how discussions flow, how easy it is for threads within a topic to develop and how coherent the presentation remains, and how both short and longer-form posts can mingle.

With the Facebook/Friendfeed deal bringing back another chorus of “Yes. Facebook. There can be only one….”* I’m happy to see some work and thought around constructing complementary pieces rather than a monolith. Whether or not a tiny thread takes off, this kind of development is going to lead in interesting directions.

Sure, I’m going to needle the project a little because it’s not exactly what I would have done (if, you know, I had actually had the idea for it and stuff), but it’s the kind of thinking that I love: don’t bother reinventing the wheel, just build the vehicle you want on top of it.

* I had a tough time deciding between the Highlander joke and the Borg joke, but I think this was the way to go.