Micro-blogging, a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually around 160 characters) to be seen either by the public or a select group, has caught on in a large way over the last year or so. It is a completely new way to keep up with what’s going on in with someone. Think of it as a constant instant messaging status. Micro-blogging differs from instant messaging in one very basic way, it generally meant for general communication rather than specific. What does this mean? Well, for instance, if I want to talk to by friend Erick about some web development stuff, I’ll instant message him with my questions but,If I want to let people know that I am on my way to see a movie, I can send that to a micro-blogging site and those that subscribe to my notifications will be notified. Micro-blogging is very general while instant messaging is very specific. Micro-blogging can help you reach a mass audience while instant messaging will only allow to connect to a few people.
So who are the micro-bloggers? Well, everyone can be one, but there are a lot of people doing it right now. People you probably know, but many that you don’t. You are probably asking “Why would I want to tell the whole world I’m going to see a movie, or that I’m watching television?” and you are correct to ask it, but the question doesn’t really have definitive answer. In fact, once you stop asking this question, you’ll find that micro-blogging is easy. The trick, lies in convincing your friends to sign up and use the service(s) as well so you are all “in the know” on each other’s activities.
The larger players in the micro-blogging game are Twitter, Jaiku, & Pownce. Each have different features and variations on the micro-blogging phenomenon. But which one should you use? Well that largely depends on what you are looking for in a micro-blogging “platform”. Platform is probably the wrong word because you can not download and install one of these to your own server. They are not “platforms” in the sense that WordPress is a platform. It is however the best word I can find to describe them. Lets take a look at Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce…
Twitter, the grand-daddy of the micro-blogging sites. It is also the most popular. Everyone has a Twitter account it seems. This is like the MySpace of micro-blogging sites. You just have to have one. That does not mean however that the service is bad. In fact, it is very straight forward, and definitely to the point. You open an account, you set up your IM and mobile phone settings and boom, you are on your way. Since this is “the MySpace of micro-blogging sites” chances are you have friends already on the site. This is where Twitter currently beats out Jaiku and Pownce, sheer numbers. You can use their little friend finder that will look at your web email contacts and see who already has an account and when it finds folks, it will ask you if you want to follow their “twits” and be notified of their updates.
What Twitter has in sheer numbers and simple straight forward set up, it lacks in the features department. For starters, its simply a point a follow operation. There ar very actual features to the service. However, some of this is augmented with the API that has been released. What Twitter lacks in actual “built-in” features, there are programmers that have implemented the API to create the missing features. Twitterfeed, is a perfect example of this. With TwitterFeed, you can set up RSS feeds to fill your Twitter status as the RSS feed(s) are updated. A great way to get your blog posts into your Twitter feed.
The next level up from Twitter is Jaiku. The recently (October 2007) Google acquired micro-blogging site takes the simpleness of Twitter and adds a couple of features. First off, Jaiku is just as easy to set up as Twitter. You set up your account, your IM name, and your mobile phone and you are on your way. Just like Twitter, you can set up to be notified via IM or SMS and you can send updates the same way. However, there are some extra things you can set up. Like “web feeds” which are RSS feeds of blogs, Flikr accounts, del.icio.us accounts, and even Last.FM accounts. You can set up these feeds in your Jaiku preferences and they update into your Jaiku “presence” feed. And it does it in a nice, human readable way so as not to clutter the user’s notification.
Another item that Jaiku adds over Twitter is the concept of Channels (still in beta). With channels you have a bunch of like minded people that talk about the same thing and make updates about such things. For example, lets say you have a popular podcast. You can create a channel on that podcast and tie it to a Flickr account and a Del.icio.us account. Add yourself as a member of the channel, and then you can posts updates to that channel and anyone that follows your podcast and has a Jaiku account can join your channel and post comments, read your latest bookmarks related to the podcast and see your latest images. This is only an example, but hopefully it gives you an idea of how Channels on Jaiku work.
Where Jaiku lacks though is number of users. It is currently invite only and therefore, you will probably know less people on the service. There is currently no word on when the service will go public so right now, it looks like it will stay invite only. Maybe we’ll hear something from Google on the service soon.
Finally there is Pownce. Pownce was co-founded by Kevin Rose of Digg fame. This is how the service is best known. However, where Twitter and Jaiku are limited on features and capabilities, Pownce tries real hard to (in my opinion) do too much. When Pownce launched, it did so to a wave of blogger’s reviews. Many people felt it didn’t live up to the hype and the lack of some very important features made it fall to the wayside. Pownce offers up micro-blogging with the ability to easily do links, events, and even files. You can even buy a Pro account ($20 bucks a year) that will allow you to upload larger files and view the pages free of advertisements. So, right off the bat there has been some form of a business model (something Twitter and Jaiku lack).
However, while the folks at Pownce were busy worrying about the business plan they left out some important features, some of these have been fixed while others have not. For instance, there was no public API for developers to build applications for the service on top of (resolved in Fall of 2007). Secondly there was no way to update from a mobile device (fixed with the release of http://m.pownce.com). No SMS or instant messaging support (either for notifications or updates) and this is still not fixed. Also, there was a severe mis-communication in how to properly utilize the service. While it definitely has micro-blogging capabilities, it came off as more of a way to collaborate then a micro-blogging site and it still does too. The ability to add events, files, and even easily add links for public consumption was a nice touch and the fact that you can upload a 10MB for free for people to access is pretty nifty (it’s 100MB with a Pro account). But it gives off that air of collaboration tool rather than micro-blogging.
However, Pownce is going public on January 22nd, 2008 and according to the creater/co-founder Leah Culver, we can expect some new features at the time of release. What will those features be? No one knows. Will the fill in some holes many feel are found all over Pownce? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.
It is really hard to pick one of the 3 because they all have something in common but each has its own definitive feature set. Right now, my pick would be Jaiku. I like its ease of use and some of the features it has over Twitter (really like that Web Feeds feature). My main complaint with Jaiku is for it to open up to the public and in doing so make sure you advertise, and push your product. You need to overthrow your competitor, Twitter, in a very fierce way. Jaiku offers a good service, a quality product, with features missing from Twitter.
With that in mind, I will be keeping a very close eye on Pownce. With it’s public release just around the corner I want to see how they handle certain aspects of their product. Just recently they added the ability to add links to your other networks (Facebook, Del.icio.us, blogs, IM accounts, and much more), I wonder if they plan on giving you the ability to have those “feed into” your Pownce updates. The potential is definitely there in Pownce. It could become a dominating player in the field especially since it has a business model in tact already. That business model has the potential to help it draw the attention of venture capitalists where as Twitter’s business model (or lack there-of) seems to be hindering it’s ability to move forward.
So again, right now, if you are looking to get into the micro-blogging thing, then I would look heavily at Jaiku. It’s like Twitter but just better enough to make one overlook the invite only status it currently has. But keep an eye on Pownce, especially after January 22nd. If they can get some of the features users say are missing added in, then they could very well offer a solid micro-blogging experience. Especially since you can do files and events so easily on Pownce.