Home Evan Williams on Decentralized Social Networks

Evan Williams on Decentralized Social Networks

Twitter founder Evan Williams says Twitter is open enough to be interoperable with decentralized social networks built by other people, but that none have overcome the trade-off in user experience innovation that comes with decentralization.

Williams spoke to The Economist in a 12 minute video interview posted last night, about his transition from CEO to the head of product development. The part of the interview of most interest to me was the last question asked: is Williams concerned about someone around the world reproducing Twitter as a set of standards and protocols? Check out his answer below, and diso nerds – please dissect as appropriate.

“People have been talking about recreating Twitter as a set of standards and protocols pretty much since we launched and started getting popular. In fact these standards and protocols exist and Twitter is so open that people can just make Twitter work with a more open and federated network.

“So far that hasn’t taken off, I believe because it hasn’t provided as good a user experience. I think there are advantages to a decentralized system and there are also many disadvantages. The disadvantage is that it’s very hard to innovate and do some of the things you can do with a centralized service with a decentralized service, that’s just part of the trade-off and so far it doesn’t seem like a worthwhile trade-off.”

What do you think? Is it true that Twitter is open enough to work with other, decentralized, networks? Does decentralization really come at a cost to the ability to innovate? Is it a problem of User Experience that has slowed the consumer adoption of technologies like Status.net? Will that same problem hamper the prospects of open source Facebook competitor Diaspora, and the many other smaller projects aiming to take social networking out of the hands of a few big companies? I suspect there are grounds for argument with most of those statements.

Why is this important? Arguably, decentralization yields opportunities for innovation beyond even the great product mind of Williams, it yields competition, consumer choice, corporate accountability and improved quality of service. That’s the theory, at least – but it does seem that Twitter Inc. is moving ahead fast, furious and in a way that satisfies more than 100 million users.

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