Twitter Annotations: developer and user nirvana or the biggest nightmare

Steven Hodson

So yesterday was big announcement day for Twitter at their Chirp Developer Conference which followed some recent announcement by the company that didn't sit well with the developer community. The highlight that got most of the attention of course was the fact that Twitter finally has the beginnings of a monetization plan called Promoted Tweets.

However that wasn't the only thing to grab the attention as two other things that they announced are going to have a huge impact not just on using and developing for Twitter but potentially for the way we communicate on the Web. The first one is what they call user streams which are intended to make Twitter a real time delivery system of messages. This will have an immediate impact on the whole Twittersphere especially once the developers can incorporate it in their clients and other Twitter related services.

As cool as that might be what followed was even more important and service changing feature being added to Twitter. I am of course referring to the Annotation feature that is suppose to go live for developers sometime next quarter. Mahendra Palsule at Skeptic Geek has a really good post on the feature that is well worth reading but first we need to understand what this Annotation idea is

The feature will allow developers to "add any arbitrary metadata to any tweet in the system." So, just like a tweet can today be transmitted along with information about which other tweet it was in reply to, or what location it came from, or what application it was created on, now Twitter will allow developers to make up new stuff. Twitter is looking to see how developers use Annotations before it creates any sort of taxonomy for them, Sarver said.

Analytics and researchers would go nuts over it because of the amount of information that they could pull from a Twitterstream would double, triple or even grow by ten-folds. Mahendra provided a few ideas that really would only be scratching the surface

  • Show me tweets from users above an influence-rank threshold
  • Show me tweets from users who have at least x followers or x list memberships
  • Show me tweets from a specific geo-location
  • Only show me tweets that contain links or pics or videos
  • There can be interesting mashups and visualizations based on such metadata.

If this happens the promise of the power that Annotated Tweets could bring to the table gets blown away like a puff of smoke.

I realize that at some level all developers are competing against each other for attention and users not to mention against Twitter itself. However if there is one thing I think that all developers could agree on it would be that the user on Twitter is of prime importance. If this is indeed the case it would behoove them to work together around Annotations as by creating a common set of namespaces they will radically reduce a large portion of user frustration that is inevitable as confusion over what the hell Annotations are and why they aren't a common experience.

Not only would this greatly benefit the user experience it would also be a good thing for Twitter the company as it would see that their concerns over user experience (such as the one that lead them to buying Tweetie) would be for the most part laid to rest.

The sad part is that I don't think this will happen and as much as I really hope that I am proven I think we could be headed into some problematic time when it comes to Twitter and the clients we all like to use.