One of the main things that I do on Twitter these days, and that the people I follow do, is share links. Sharing links is one of the primal activities on the Web. It was one of the first things people did once they started building Web pages; it was one of the two driving forces behind the rise of blogging (the other was unedited self-expression).
Twitter was built for people to share “status messages” — the answer to the “What are you doing?” question — but most of the people I follow don’t use it for that very much. They use it to comment on news events and to share links they like. Because of this disjunction between original design and “street use,” I find that Twitter gets only one thing about sharing links right — and pretty much everything else wrong.
What it gets right is immediacy. Twitter is fantastic when there’s a breaking story and you want to see what links people are handing around. It’s a much speedier way to tune in to what’s happening (Senator Stevens — guilty!) than RSS feeds or reloading a news site’s front page.
But Twitter privileges “now”-ness over everything else. You can’t tag your links. You can annotate them only if you can say what you wish in under 140 characters (actually, under 140 minus the length of the URL). You can’t even see what the actual URL is, most of the time, since people use URL-shorteners to save space. There is really no other way to say this: For a service that is so widely used to share links, Twitter really sucks at it.
Delicious has long offered the best combination of features for simple link saving and sharing (it’s got space for annotations and a spiffy new interface). You can use Delicious to “follow” (subscribe to) specific tags, but not, as far as I can tell, to follow specific users. (If I’m behind on Delicious’s feature set, enlighten me!) You can use Delicious-generated RSS feeds for that, but we’re getting pretty far afield — nothing remotely approaching Twitter’s simplicity.
So here’s an opportunity for Twitter, or for someone else, if the Twitter team is too busy: Offer a service very similar to Twitter but optimized for link-sharing. (FriendFeed is cool but it’s trying to do so many other things at the same time that I don’t think it suits what I’m talking about.) Make it easier to share links real-time; expose the actual URL; give us some rudimentary tools for organizing the links; and watch something cool grow.
Of course, Twitter has the critical mass of usage right now, and that’s not going away. But surely there’s room for improvement.
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