Webstuff: Twitter and Jaiku

I signed up for a Twitter account in late February after hearing about the service on the technology podcast This Week in Tech (coincidentally known as TWiT). A couple of days ago, Leo Laporte — the head TWiT and probably the most friended person on Twitter — announced on his blog that he was switching from Twitter to Jaiku in an effort to create distance and distinction between the TWiT podcast and the Twitter service, which are unrelated. The announcement resulted in “The Leo Effect“, a wave of new account signups at Jaiku.

So what are Twitter and Jaiku? Why — apart from the name — would a discerning Internet user choose one over the other?

Central to both services is the ability to post short, 140-character updates, either from an SMS-enabled cell phone or from a web interfaceTwitter also allows posting of tweets via some instant messaging protocols; Jaiku does not presently offer this functionality. Both Twitter and Jaiku have made their API public, which allows developers to create applications like Twitter Tools, which allows users to display their latest tweets in the WordPress sidebar as well as post tweets from within their WordPress blog. I suspect that “The Leo Effect” will result in a host of new plugins and widgets for Jaiku.. On Twitter, these updates are referred to as “tweets”, while on Jaiku they are known simply as “jaikus”. The 140-character limit is anything but arbitrary; the services are both designed to be used by on-the-go types from their cell phones. SMS, the text-messaging service available on most cell phones today, has a built-in 140 byte limit on individual messages. This translates to one hundred and forty 8-bit characters or — for languages like Chinese, Russian and Arabic whose characters are more complex — seventy 16-bit characters.

The ability to [post a short message on a web page] is insignificant compared to the power of The Force.
— Darth Vader

So you can send a message to a website with your cell phone. What’s the point? The real key is building a list of contacts whose updates you want to see and (presumably) who want to see your updates as well. On Twitter, updates from your contacts can be delivered directly to your cell phone or to an instant messaging client (I use Jabber via Gaim Pidgin IM). Thus, you can keep in constant contact with your contacts (or “friends”, if you must). It’s up to you to decide whether or not this is a good thing.

Jaiku takes the basic functionality of Twitter and expands upon it, adding a sprinkle of Tumblr, giving users the ability to add pretty much any RSS or Atom feed — be they photos from Flickr, posts from a blog or even a feed from Twitter — to their “stream of presence”. Anything in this stream can be commented upon via the Jaiku website, whether it is an SMS message, a blog entry, or a photo from Flickr. My own Jaiku includes the following:

  • The RSS feed for blog entries from KJToo.com. This post will appear on my Jaiku stream shortly after I publish it.
  • The photostream from my Flickr account. As I add new photos to Flickr, they will appear in my Jaiku stream.
  • My Twitter RSS feed. My “tweets” already appear on KJToo.com thanks to the Twitter Tools plugin. They will also appear in my Jaiku stream. This allows me to keep using Twitter and still take advantage of Jaiku’s expanded feature set. The main drawback to this is the delay between the time I tweet and when that tweet appears in my Jaiku stream.
  • My Squirl feed. When I add new items to my Squirl collections, they’ll appear in my Jaiku stream.

Of course, everything in my Jaiku stream is already available at KJToo.com, so why would I want to collect it all at Jaiku, too? It’s a fair question, and one to which I don’t have a good answer. One of the benefits of creating a single stream of presence at Jaiku is also something of a drawback. Every item in a Jaiku stream — whether it’s an SMS message, a photo retrieved from a Flickr photostream or a blog post from an RSS feed — can be commented upon at the Jaiku site. This is nice in that it allows for a lot of interaction, but not so nice because (as far as I can tell) those comments won’t automatically be transferred to the original source of the jaiku.

For example, if someone comments on this blog post from the Jaiku website, it will be seen by anyone who reads my Jaiku page or has added me as a contact there; unfortunately, the same comment will not be seen on KJToo.com. This allows for increased interaction, but also segregates that interaction based on where a reader sees the content.

Unlike Jaiku, Twitter seems to have no aspirations to become (as Evo Terra has called it) “a portal for all things me”; there are no options to import RSS feeds from other sources, there’s no secondary commenting system, and there isn’t a library of icons to associate with individual tweets. Instead, Twitter focuses on their bread and butter: the aforementioned tweets.

That’s why I’m keeping my Twitter account and will continue to use it. Jaiku will doubtless introduce a post-via-IM feature in the near future, but Twitter already has it and I’m interested to see what their development team will do next. I also want to see what other developers do with the Twitter API. Already there is the ridiculously addictive Twitter/Google Maps mashup, Twittervision (which seems to be somewhat broken at the moment) and a host of tools for integrating Twitter into blogs; I have no idea what people more technically-minded than I will create.

My final reason for sticking with Twitter is simple: it’s where my friends are. There’s a small but active group of authors, bloggers and podcasters in my circle of friends who use Twitter, and the only reason I would drop the service completely is if they all decided to switch.