Yesterday's announcement that Seesmic has acquired Twhirl is no surprise. Loic LeMeur, CEO of Seesmic was muttering something about it when we met last month but asked me to keep quiet. What is far more interesting to me is the long term impact on desktop client applications like Twhirl to enterprise information consumption.
I've long held the view that mashing up text, video and podcast 'radio' provides one of the richest experiences for any information consumer. Today we only have glimpses of what that might look like. Services such as Jerry Schuman's Newsgang simlucast for Newsgang Live where the user can sit in on Steve Gillmor's Newsgang while participating in a Ustream chat session hosted by Jerry are emerging as a representating ways to not only consume but parse information through informal channels. While Jerry is doing his thing, Steve is able to see what's going on while the show progresses and respond to observations made over at Ustream directly into Newsgang Live. My thought is that Seesmic/Twhirl as a proxy for an AIR client to this type of environment, brings the potential for a new dimension to that experience. That's only the start.
I'm a huge RSS fan but increasingly find that my primary source for surfacing interesting things is switching to Twitter, accessed via the Twhirl client. Once a service for telling the world what you're doing in 140 characters, Twitter is evolving (at least from my perspective) as the place where I find the nuances that enrich the news announcements in which I'm interested. It's where I see the Techmeme and ZDNet headlines, the comments people add and the discussion that ensues among the 700+people I follow. It is interposed with the personal information people choose to share through the 'direct message' back channel. That's how I learned of the Seesmic/Twhirl deal. It's how I learned that one long time friend is pregnant while another had her car burglarized, recording the post trauma on Qik and notified the Twitterverse. In short, it reflects the way I seamlessly communicate and consume across the blurred paths of my work and personal lives. Where does all this go?
Ross Mayfield, one of my Irregular colleagues and president of SocialText provides an excellent analysis of the 'underweb' as he calls it, noting that:
The Seesmic thing makes sense on a number of levels beyond the trend line. It starts with how a flash vdeo client plays well with AIM. And the need to hook into the command line of an emerging web (and for twitter and others it becomes interesting if clients that subsume attention subsume more). Just follow the attention and gestures that mean something (Steve Gilmore, where art thou?).
None of this is ready for mainstream (consumer, already made the other point). But, I, for one, welcome our new atomized client underlords. The underweb, today, fits those who do more than browse in their pajamas. And if you think more than that -- too much information.
Where is Gillmor? He's out there poking around with GoogleReader and GTalk. He wants everyone to consume in that manner yet we have the increasingly absorbing Newsgang.net where I can consume the news, Tweets plus Newsgang shows in one of the simplest tabbed interfaces I've seen since I first clapped eyes on Google. In typical Gillmoresque fashion, it has no RSS which is fine by me because I'm moving to Twitter/Twhirl anyway.
While all this experimentation is fine for observers and edglings like me, the enterprise is about getting things done. I find that Twitter/Twhirl has already provided me with the ambient intimacy Lisa Reichelt describes, delivering huge value in parsing information and problem solving while deepening the relationships I hold with an ever growing list of communicants. It's way beyond the firehose that Twitter implies. Now pull that thought into the enterprise. Siloed operations conspire to produce sub-optimal business performance. Apply this simple technology mashup to the enterprise and you start to see how what we've seen happening in wikis and blogs is catapulted to a new way of interacting and working. What does this mean for Twitter/Twhirl/Seesmic et al?
Looked at through the enterprise lens, Twitter is a feature of a much richer set of communication and action tools. Building an AIR client - if that is what is required - is not that difficult. Video apps are a dime a dozen so expect to see enterprise versions. It's already happening. We've seen the emergence of Eventtrack, the result of random Tweets that turned into a conversation about how Twitter could be used in a business setting. You can be sure that IBM is thinking about this in its own clumsy way. SAP is pondering the possibilities while Microsoft has the technology but can't figure out what to do with it. That only leaves Oracle. Goodness knows what's going on at Redwood Shores but no doubt we'll find out in due course. Right now, it seems to be left to outsiders like Eddie Awad to come up with the cool stuff.
It is fascinating to watch this world unfold in real time but I am left wondering how the enterprise will react. It is used to the 'suits' turning up with their hands out looking for that million dollar deal. Security concerns alone will add several zeros to any service of the kind I'm envisaging. But what happens if in house developers decide they can build better mousetraps at the ridiculously low cost of a Twhirl? What if the call for ever more open APIs becomes a deafening crescendo and the internal developer communities really get their teeth into this thing? Just how will the big players in enterprise applications respond? Process integration is where I'd be looking along with a determination to kill off the spreadsheet as the decision making tool of choice.
That just leaves the minor matter of figuring out what to do about RSS. That won't go away because as a colleague said yesterday: 'It's an emerging and tiny part of what enterprise has today.' Enterprise will find the right ways to use it as an augmenting tool to the growing arsenal of information discovery mechanisms that are emerging. As my friend Hugh MacLeod often says: "We live in interesting times."