Twitter Developer Nest

Last night, developers of twitter clients, apps and mashups came together at Sun’s Customer Briefing Centre in London for the first London twitter developer nest.

I’m not really a “proper” twitter developer, but I’ve thrown together a twitter client and a web app before, so I figured I could pretend for an evening. ;-)

It was a very interesting evening, and I’ve copied my (sorry – fairly sketchy and incomplete!) notes from the evening below. If you really want to see what you missed, Chris did a great job filming all of the talks for UStream.

Matt Hosanee (@scoobeesnac) from Sun started with a few quick messages from our hosts:

  • sun.com/startups – free and discounted services for startups (e.g. tech support, storage, web hosting, etc.) – where startups are companies less than 6 years old with fewer than 150 people – looks like an interesting package, with the promise of reliability, scaling, et al if your business takes off
  • Sun’s Cloud Open API – there wasn’t long to talk about this, but the emphasis on “Open” was interesting. (And I liked the visual gag of a photo of an open sauce bottle on his slide :-) )

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Nick Halstead (@nickhalstead) from tweetmeme.com, a twitter aggregator of most popular links and content

  • started as a side project of fav.or.it
  • first version built in 16 hours
  • taking in the “firehose” that is the twitter public timeline
    • insanely busy, and growing at alarming rate (1200%+ growth over 12 months)
    • interesting note that noone is even trying to aggregate Facebook’s status updates – if coping with Twitter’s is hard, what would Facebook (with it’s 170 million + users) be like?!
    • GNIP (3rd party) now offering access to the twitter firehose for a fee?
    • XMPP abandoned by twitter as an approach to do this themselves because of problems scaling
  • Optimisations needed for handling this much data, including:
    • database de-normalisation – disk space isnt as expensive as the work involved in following links – multiple attempts to refactor their database. one index isn’t enough – wherever possible, don’t link tables and get everything you need in one row, reducing reads.
    • memcache – heavy use of this
    • “cloud” use – tweetmeme uses S3 for images, but they dont use it for app hosting – lack of trust or confidence in reliability
  • Brands interested in twitter – Dell, vodafone, BMW, Tesco, BA, etc. – all spending reasonable amounts of money on twitter activity
    • Why? trust is a key factor – and opinion of a friend who has used a product is seen as particularly valuable. this is what twitter can offer?
    • Dell believe they’ve made $1 million revenue on twitter.
    • NetApp now dedicates 20% of their PR budget to social media
  • twitter traffic in the UK growing rapidly – particularly since end of 2007. The graph shown of increase in usage showed a pretty extreme rise
  • What might be coming?
    • OAuth

      • “not gonna solve all our problems”
    • More integration and purchase of third-party tools? (e.g. like buying summize to provide search – they will buy up the more useful twitter apps)

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Sam Sethi (@ssethi) from twitblogs.com talked about working with twitter

  • What is twitter?

    • “if Fire Eagle is a location broker, then Twitter is an attention broker”
    • Is it killing long form blogging? (I don’t think so!)
    • Following is a faster way of getting information than RSS / XMLRPC / et al (okay, so that is true)
  • “most of the best twitter apps are from the UK” – e.g. TweetDeck, Dabr, Mr Tweet
  • A “Twitter Connect” approach for access would’ve been better than OAuth? But not coming in 2009
    • e.g. as with Google Friend Connect or Facebook Connect
    • OAuth requires too much bouncing around between different sites – is going to pose usability issues that developers need to try and explain to users
    • Developers worry about not “owning” their user’s accounts – it makes it harder to get funding etc.
  • Why don’t twitter let us use our twitter profile pages as an OpenID url?
  • What is twitblogs?
    • Extending twitter into a “micro-sharing platform” – let you share more than just 140 characters – pictures, videos, longer text, etc.
    • Plans for lots more features – e.g. recommendation engine, an attention broker for XMPP, etc.
    • Sun-hosted and uses MySQL
  • What might twitter do next?
    • Make an “attention broker”? (made in-house, or by buying someone like twitblogs)
    • Ads
    • better mobile site (made in-house, or by buying someone like dabr)
  • What are their threats?
    • XMPP/OMB – microblogging.org
    • Google / Jaiku laconica/identica yammer etc.
    • Facebook
    • Microsoft? (wasn’t sure why)

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Doug Williams (@dougw) from twitter.com led a very interesting Twitter API Q&A. A few of the interesting questions:

  • joined twitter a few weeks ago – former IBMer
  • Q: “Will twitter ask desktop clients to move to OAuth?”
    • A: “Don’t know. What do you developers want?”

      • Iain Dodsworth (TweetDeck developer) : Reluctant to move – particularly because it would break integration with third party services (e.g. twitpic) which currently use basic auth. That said, recent test with facebook integration (which uses OAuth) was promising.
      • Follow-up question – “How do you handle the post authenticate click? The app can send a user to the OAuth page, but the OAuth page can’t send the user back to the app easily.”
        • A: “Don’t know. We’re looking at that sort of thing”
  • Q: “Could we get a ‘firehose’-style feed for favourited tweets?”
    • A: “It’s not currently in the plan. Might happen one day. Firehose feed for deleted tweets is likely though – to allow third parties using the regular firehose to update their records to reflect deletions.” (Although intended to avoid stuff like twitter search still showing deleted tweets, that might be an interesting feed in it’s own right! :-) )
  • Q: “Why does search.twitter.com still have deleted tweets?”
    • A: “Result of it originally being a third-party app – it maintains it’s own separate database. Deletions not currently reflected in it’s db – but this is being looked at.”
  • Q: “twitter developers need inside information about twitter’s plans (even if done under a non-disclosure agreement) to let them know how safe their business is. Particularly when talking to potential funders. Can we have this?”
    • A: “Not a request I’ve heard before. Will pursue this.”

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Graeme Sutherland (@grasuth) from nodestone.com gave a talk on “You Are a Neuron” (slides on slideshare) – drawing a parallel between interactions in twitter, and the interactions of neurons in the brain. Following that metaphor, twitter apps (which alter the interactions) are like drugs altering the interactions of neurons in the brain? Interesting idea…

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“Show and tell”a few of us each had 140 seconds or less to share their twitter creations. Some interesting apps shared, such as:

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