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Identi.ca vs Twitter or Open vs Closed

Over the last month I’ve seen a few posts that makes me wonder about the choices made in open vs closed software. These examples are all related to choices in the microblogging category. The choices are that of identi.ca vs twitter.

The first was an announcement of a new launchpad feature. This was announced as ‘Launchpad Now On Twitter’ and described a way to use twitterfeed to follow launchpad news and bugs on twitter. Looking at the description of what was being achieved I took a look at twitterfeed to see if I might find a use for it somehow. What I discovered was that what it did for twitter posts it also did for laconi.ca instances such as identi.ca. As seen in the comments my initial thought was the closed source twitter option was chosen for its popularity over the less known but open source identi.ca. Matt explained that it was not seeing the identi.ca option for the choice of twitter. The post was corrected to include the identi.ca option.

Then I came across a post from Jono about an app he had written way back when with the title of ‘I invented twitter’. I’ll admit, I missed the humor tag on it. By the time I had come to the end of the article I had a few thoughts in my head. First was an app frontend like that would be a neat quick way to post various updates about what you’re doing at the moment. Click this button to dent your currently playing song, click here to dent your IRC channels, etc. I was thinking ‘Quite the subtle hint to get something done Jono’ in a nice way. I then read the last line about asking twitter to pass on some of their gold.

Due to my thinking of the post as a subtle hint for a new app based on his old work my thoughts were gold = code to make this happen. (After all from what I know of twitter they have no financial gold [profit] yet) I was wondering why beg for the gold (read code) of twitter when you have the mine at laconi.ca? Then I noticed Jono’s twitter updates on the sidebar. I’ll sign up for his identi.ca feed. Oh wait, there is no identi.ca feed for Jono. I was surprised at this and said as much in the comments to the post. Turns out he has not had time to create an account on identi.ca and simply clings to the closed source option because of the very little use he puts it through.

Then today I came across this entry in the EFF’s deeplink blog announcing their new twitter account. According to Tim’s post it is an experiment and they are not quite sure how they are going to use it. This is an organization that under their free speech page has a line that reads ‘Preserving the Internet’s open architecture is critical to sustaining free speech’. So why make a choice to come out of the box in the microblogging world using a closed source system? I emailed Tim on this subject earlier today but have yet to received a response.

I’ve focused on microblogging platforms here as it drew my thoughts to the issue. My question in these and other cases are why go for the closed source option when there is a perfectly good and viable open source choice. I understand there are reasons for the choices. The first example was a lack of knowledge of the tool being used. The second was started before the Free option became available and viable and time has not been made to migrate to the Free choice. The third I’m still wondering about and will hopefully receive an answer to satisfy my curiosity.

I am not against closed source software nor its users. There are times where closed source provides the better software or platform allowing you to do something that you cannot get done via F/OSS. In my life these times are becoming more and more rare. I use MoneyDance for my financial software. It was originally due to it being cross-platform and GnuCash (and other options tested at the time) not doing things I wanted. Now it is because I’m integrated into its ways. The important part of the software, my data, is in an open format that I can take with me to other programs easily should I make the choice to leave (or should the developers simply go away). I’m using iTunes to manage my iPod. I have to get time to configure and learn to use Amarok on my Kubuntu desktop that I’ve been experimenting with the last few weeks. If I can figure out how to sync easily I’ll be rid of iTunes. My first session in trying to get the syncing done resulted in failure and I’ve not had the time to get back to it. I’ll be getting some closed source tax software in the coming weeks as well. I use a closed binary driver to get my wireless working on my laptop and netbook. I even have a twitter account because I was thinking it might be useful to follow people and organizations without identi.ca accounts. I would cross-post to it from my identi.ca as well for the same reason, those who are unaware of or choose not to embrace the freedom of identi.ca. (I have not used the microblogging overall as much as I thought I might though)

To close this post out, I have a few questions to ask you to think about. If you are a F/OSS enthusiast/ambassador when do you feel it is okay to use closed source software? If you are using a system such as twitter where the backend is closed but open APIs, is that good enough? Is it okay to continue to use a closed system such as twitter as your primary platform when an [at least] equal system such as identi.ca exists and can feed the same information to the closed system?

11 Comments

  1. Alex Launi wrote:

    I think we can all agree open > closed, but I don’t think that your choice of examples is a very strong one. Web services are not the same as thick applications when it comes to freedom. Using indenti.ca instead of twitter because it is free has very few benefits to 99% of users. You have the same access to your data that you would have via twitter. What benefit does openness in a web service really get you? There is always the benefit of being able to fix bugs you find, but most of the bugs that these platforms suffer from are not feature related but stability, which has more to do with system architecture than software. Openness of code wrt web services really isn’t that important since you’re not running it yourself, all that matter is the ability to get your data out, which both of these services offer.

    Also it is not true to claim that identi.ca is equal to twitter. They do not have feature parity.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  2. Wesley wrote:

    Alex:
    You’re right, web services aren’t the same. I’d argue that, with regard to web services, freedom is more important. If you’re data is locked into a web service, there’s really no recourse. Most desktop apps have at least some day to take your data with you to another app. You’ve also got to understand, that while with identi.ca you aren’t running the code yourself, you are able to do that with laconi.ca, which is what powers identi.ca.

    And as for identi.ca and twitter not being equal, you’re probably right. Identi.ca has more features than twitter.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  3. Drew wrote:

    I use whatever solves my problem best, with preference to the open solution. I regularly use Windows XP and other closed software, but when given the chance, I utilize the open alternative (Pidgin, OpenOffice, Firefox). I definitely don’t blindly use the open alternative though… for instance, I use Winamp instead of Songbird on Windows, because Songbird is such a flipping memory hog.

    On another point, identi.ca is better than twitter, in my opinion, but I use both. I use ping.fm to post to indenti.ca, twitter, plurk, and myspace all at once… pretty powerful, if you think about it. If I log into ping and post my message, that took about 15 seconds total. If I logged into all four of those sites individually and then pasted the same message, that would be roughly a minute or so. Brutal!

    tl;dr, use ping.fm.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 8:56 pm | Permalink
  4. Chuck wrote:

    @Alex

    The thing is if you find a web app useful having the code gives you the ability to run it yourself if you so desire. If you find a use for microblogging in a private setting such as a corporate network you can stand the software up on your own. The Linux Outlaws and Twit, among others, have done this for their podcasts already. The laconi.ca software allows them to interact not only with their own people but other public laconi.ca servers as well.

    As for open vs closed desktop apps, I’d argue that if you had free access to your data there is no benefit to having the code there either for most people.

    You say that twitter and identi.ca are not equal. Does twitter offer something other than popularity to give it some preference over identi.ca?

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 9:09 pm | Permalink
  5. I think that when usable open alternatives exist (as for twitter and identi.ca), you should get rid of the proprietary one and switch. You can’t then follow people who only use twitter and they can’t follow you but you should convince them to do The Right Thing as well and switch just as you did.

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  6. Alex Launi wrote:

    @Chuck
    indenti.ca does not support ‘denting’ via SMS. I can text Twitter at 24242 to update my status, this is a huge feature because what are you doing when at the computer? You’re at the computer. Boring.

    @Wesley
    This is true for some web services, but Chuck talks about this in his post. Twitter has an open API *which gives you access to your data*. In multiple formats, whenever you want it. It’s yours.

    You both speak of the benefit of being able to host it yourself, that’s irrelevant to choosing identi.ca or twitter. In the case of hosting it yourself you’re choosing neither. Yes, it’s a great fact, and very useful, but to this discussion it’s extraneous.

    Choosing Twitter is better for the overall open source ecosystem. Twitter makes major contributions back to open-source projects *that matter*. In the scheme of things, a microblogging application is much less significant wrt Linux adoption than say, a high performance memory cacher. By using twitter you’re supporting them, who in turn support important FOSS projects.

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Permalink
  7. Chuck wrote:

    Alex,

    When I am mobile I have yet to want to send a dent. If/When that time comes I’ll just send it via email from my phone.

    If I stand up a laconi.ca server I am choosing identi.ca, linuxoutlaws.net, army.twit.tv, and every other laconi.ca instance that is public.

    This discussion is not about linux adoption, it’s about Free software.

    Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 12:45 am | Permalink
  8. Alex Launi wrote:

    Rather than post another comment, I’ve replied to you and Aaron in a blog post of my own. http://www.lamalex.net/2009/01/to-all-of-the-twitter-hating-freetards/

    Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink
  9. Daniel wrote:

    I use open-source as much as possible for my personal use. On my computer, pretty much everything is open source.

    Most people I know don’t. No one I know has an identi.ca account. So I use Twitter. Same goes for AIM. I use Jabber too, but many people I know are on AIM.

    I will use closed-source when it can give me something I want (contact with friends for instance), even if it costs (not open).

    If it sucks (windows, for instance), I wouldn’t use it even if it was open-source. Twitter isn’t that way.

    Monday, January 19, 2009 at 12:54 am | Permalink
  10. Maxo wrote:

    I look forward to checking out MoneyDance. I have been using GNUCash and have been wanting to find something better, but have not been successful. Hopefully MoneyDance will be it.

    Monday, February 9, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink
  11. Supporting FOSS by using it accomplishes two things (at least). It encourages the developers to stick with their efforts. It makes the FOSS more viable because, in the case of the Identi.ca example, more users mean more potential.

    For a simple FOSS money management program, you might also look at Grisbi.

    Sunday, June 14, 2009 at 6:24 am | Permalink

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