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Swarms for good not gossip

Posted by daniel on May 8, 2008 at 7:13 AM PDT

I don't understand Twitter.

Please feel free to use the comments below to call me a stupid old-fashioned luddite who wouldn't know the next big thing if it tried to add its second life avatar as my facebook buddy. Or you could use the comments below to imagine the Twitter log for your favorite Sun exec this week. In my midwestern ill-informed opinion, either would be a better use of your time than Twitter.

That's not to say that there aren't good uses that could be made of this sort of technology. But it seems to me that Twitter is like People magazine for geeks.

Instead, I'd like to know how much you just paid per gallon for gas, how long it took you to drive along a particular stretch of road, or where you found the perfect cup of coffee. Well, maybe not you exactly. More, I'd like to know this for people who are nearby me for some situation dependent definition of nearby. Then I can make decisions about where to get the cheapest gas near me, what movie to watch, ...

Yes, there are people who use Twitter to find out where to go to meet up with their friends. They use it for real and useful reasons. I wonder a bit if the weak link is communicating with people.

Years ago, Bill Joy gave an example for a use case for JXTA. He said that every car would have computers on board that could be networked together. He asked us to imagine driving down the highway as our fuel gauges dropped below 1/4 our car would contact other cars driving down the road and build a cartel of thirty cars (and their drivers of course) willing to stop for gas soon. The network would then negotiate with gas stations up the road for a cheaper price for everyone in this ad hoc group if they all stopped together at this station. In a sense, the group would be getting a bulk price for buying a total of several hundred gallons of gas.

This is cars twittering each other years before Twitter. That is something I understand.

Now that so many of us carry mobile devices, what are the useful apps that we can use to gather information painlessly from the people out and about and communicate it to others. Tim O'Reilly talks about how Amazon builds value to their platform by making it easy for people to rate and comment on the books. In the mobile village at JavaOne there are a couple of booths showing similar platforms for mobile phones. People adding useful information that is time and location specific.

Of course, as you can tell by now, my current Twitter message would be "Need coffee -- haven't slept much in three days."

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