StatusNet

by markversus

What is StatusNet?

The easiest thing would be to point you towards http://status.net, which is the homepage of the company but, as a fan of making things complicated, I will try to explain it myself.

MicroBlogging

Microblogging is posting your thoughts online in bitesize chunks (generally in 140 characters or less) on services like the massively popular www.twitter.com (You can see my tweets here).

When it started out a lot of people wondered (and still wonder) what the point of such a small amount of information would be. Why would anyone bother posting or reading anything that is just 140 characters?

The answer turned out to be lots of people.

The brevity of form of microblogging found it’s power in a some key ways:-

  1. Trivial posts
  2. Instant posts

Triviality is a term that applies to a global landscape but that collapses in a hyperlocal landscape like that of Microblogging. That is to say that rarely is a post trivial to the individual. Sure, there is plenty onwww.Twitter.com/markversus that is nonsense, but a lot of the content is of great interest to a small group. The follow model of Twitter where people choose exactly what information they want to reach them means that each post is going only to those who care to hear it and s such no post is unimportant. A user that posts information about train times in a small village is of no importance to most people in the world but essential to the small group of users that it serves. The low overheard in effort and resource makes microblogging the perfect platform for putting out this information.

The speed at which posts are published (both because they are instant and because they are short) makes microblogging a perfect medium for disseminating up to the minute information. This is where Twitter as a service really came in to its own. People were able to get news faster and from a wider variety of sources than ever before and an increasing number of news channels now monitor the real-time web to keep on top of stories. Recently the Iranian elections and earthquakes in Chile and Haiti have proven the value of the medium in this context. It also proved its weaknesses – namely that the material on these sites is often unqualified and may be prone to error or exaggeration or a general misunderstanding of context.

The prevalence of Facebook and its Status Updates prompted by “Mark is…” or similar introduced many people to publishing and consuming these short bursts of information. It is now fair game to put out any small piece of information into the public domain. No matter how niche or how trivial it may be.

StatusNet is a microblogging platform. It is the software with which a microblogging service is built. And it is Open Source.

At the moment the leader in the world of microblogging is www.twitter.com. It has been around the longest and has refined its service with some great features, such as lists and search. It is also the most widely populated. It has millions of users and billions of messages.

It has a weakness though. It is a closed system. Twitter only interacts with Twitter. They have a number of tools for programmers to help develop software to join the service together but the underlying protocol is closed. An example would be (as it used to be) only being able to email those people on the same email provider as you.

StatusNet is a system built on open source software and is designed to be federated so that users on any system built using these protocols can interact with any other. It is also built using software languages and tools available as standard with almost any web hosting provider or that are free and available to anyone running their own server.

The implications of this are likely to be long term growth and adoption of these protocols as a standard and widespread use across the web dwarfing the numbers of people that could congregate on any single service like Twitter.

The largest public installation is probably www.identi.ca and you can sign up for an account straight away. Status.Net have started to provide their own hosted solutions and of course you can set up your own.  I tried. It is not massively complicated but certainly not trivial and requires your own server, but the benefots (like being able to aggrgate status updates from other services) is great.

Oh, and no that you’re down here, you really should visit www.status.net to take a look at some of the features of your own, federated microblogging service.

Advertisements