Posted by: John Erickson | January 8, 2010

Is Semtweet a Client, a Service or a Nanoformat?

An interesting, multi-faceted discussion has ensued over the last 48 hours on #Semtweet regarding Nova Spivack’s idea for a Semantic Twitter Client (Semtweet). In addition, resources have begun to accumulate in the Semantic Microblogging Twine. I’d like to try to pick at the different perspectives from which the Semtweet crowd seems to be viewing this challenge:

Semtweet is a service: I think most of the crowd has identified that the capabilities described by Nova, while possibly rendered in clever ways by clients, are made possible by distributed services. The discussion has turned the spotlight on recent work in semantic microblogging, with the distributed microblogging prototypes SMOB (Alex Passant, DERI) and TwitLogic (Josh Schinavier, TWC, RPI) being highlighted (and Twined) amongst others.

Semtweet is a nanoformat: Platforms like TwitLogic and SMOB complement/augment microblogging services “such as” Twitter, but still depend on microposts having been encoded using particular syntactical standards — a microblogging nanoformat — as a basis to generate and persist their useful, value-added mini-graphs. A worthy debate may ensue as to whether the current nanoformats are good enough, or whether new expressive capabilities are required. Excellent summaries of current nanoformatting nanostandards and their significance can be found e.g. in TwitLogic (Josh Schinavier) and Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter (danah boyd, in addition to the previous link.

Nanoformats try to maximise the semantic density of a (typically) 140-character micropost. As existing syntaxes are expanded and new ones introduced, manual text entry becomes harder and manual interpretation impossible; remember the Obfuscated Perl contests of a decade ago? Although Josh has argued in his TwitLogic paper that it is possible to pack machine-parsable semantics into (mostly) natural-language expression, I’m wondering if there might also be room for iGoogle Gadget-like, nanoformat-specific, scripted interface plugins — nanoformatting gadgets — that could help users micropost in more standardized ways. Nanogadgets could be implemented as pop-up mini-forms or WYSIWYG-style interface aids by which users could embed links, data, geolocations, etc. Similar plug-in could help interpret such embeds in value-added ways. This brings us to…

Semtweet is a client: Much of the “semantic” workload for Semtweet is best done in a distributed way by services, but as my note above on nanoformatting gadgets highlights, there is room for a dedicated client. However, I caution the Semtweet community to consider the fact that, based on current Twitter client statics compiled by @twitstat (corroborated by statistics from funkatron, creator of the Spaz client) the web-hosted Twitter client still has the largest share (although the vast majority use is spread between an array of clients, with Tweetdeck being next most popular). What do these numbers mean? First, that we must remember that there are many clients out there and the common denominator is still manual entry and interpretation; second, that there is still plenty of opportunity for new clients that truly add value and especially that change the game..

Semtweet is a “commercial” open source project: A bit surprising — even to me, a recovered DRM guy — is how quickly the open source issue has entered the discussion, having been introduced by entrepreneurs like Jeff and Nova and even myself; personally, I can’t seem to avoid a good (or any) legal argument…er…debate.

From the preceding discussion, we can see that Semtweet could manifest itself as value-added services and clients that are optimised to render those services. From the client perspective, I won’t even go there; I can’t imagine a commercial client; as Nova’s original micropost suggested, we’re talking about “Firefox-like,” even for truly valued-added extensions. Services however are a different matter; while it is easy to see a Semtweet client thriving on completely open data, it is also possible to see it working within the enterprise environment making grouchy old CTO’s happy. Several potential value propositions come to mind there, including the provision of consulting services and support; the cloud-based hosting and operation of proprietary services; and the for-pay provision of value-added capabilities not available at zero cost. Insert the usual GPL licensing discussions here…


  1. […] On 7 Jan 2009 the discussion turned toward semantic microblogging, with the distributed microblogging prototypes SMOB (Alex Passant, DERI) and TwitLogic (Josh Schinavier, TWC, RPI) being highlighted amongst others. More on this in an upcoming post… […]

  2. Great up-to-the-minute summary, and +1 to nanoformatting gadgets. Making nanotations easy can’t hurt their chances of widespread use.

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