Social Media Technology

The Tweet stuff: When it absolutely positively has to get there

If we’ve learned one thing from this week’s massive attack against the very fabric of our social connectivity, it’s that clouds don’t make the best stuff on which to build.

Twitter, in particular, has shown how very vulnerable it is—a vulnerability we share as we become more dependent on Twitter for most of our communication with each other. Oddly enough, I needed to contact someone about a business opportunity just as Twitter universe began to crumble, but all I had was her Twitter name—I couldn’t find her email address. Since Twitter was down, I couldn’t connect up with her for hours.

Of course, massive DDoS isn’t all that common, but Twitter still hasn’t recovered from the attack. As I’ve been playing with new Twitter accounts this week, I found varying degrees of responsiveness across the accounts, probably based on how busy they are; possibly based on how many followers a person has. None of the accounts would allow me to change most profile information, including the design. As you can see with my new integrated @shelleypowers Twitter account, I haven’t been able to change the picture, or to delete or add a new background image. I’ve had varying success with just posting a new message.

I have never liked centralized systems, though I understand their appeal and worth. It always seems, though, that just when you start to depend on the centralized service something happens to it.

Yahoo is now out of the search engine business, and with its new business partnership with Microsoft, its side applications like delicious are now vulnerable. I’ve managed to replace delicious with Scuttle, though I no longer have the social aspect of delicious. However, my Scuttle implementation does an excellent job with bookmarks, which is what I needed.

Then NewsGator sent an email around this last week telling all of us that our NewsGator feed aggregator is being replaced by Google Reader. I don’t like Google Reader. More importantly, I really don’t want to give Google yet more information about me. So, I replaced my NewsGator/NetNewsWire installation with a Gregarius implementation. It took me some time to get used to the new user interface, and I’ve had to password protect the installation, but I’m not dependent on a centralized feed aggregator, which can, and did, go away.

Twitter, though. I was not a big Twitter fan at first, but I can see the benefits of the application, especially if you want to point out an article or something else to folks, and have it quickly, virally spread, in a nice swine flu-like manner. It’s fun to have a giggle with folks, too. But the darn thing is centralized, and not only centralized, vulnerable and centralized, which gives one pause.

I have an account, too, but most folks are in Twitter. You can integrate the two by linking your account to Twitter, as I have. Still, is also centralized, just located in a different slice of the internet pie.

I finally bit the dust this week, and installed my own version of Laconica which is the microblogging software used with There were a couple of glitches, not the least of which were two very minor programming typos in the install program (yes, I have turned these in to the developers and it should be fixed, soon). However, the application is actually quite easy to use. I’ve had fun playing around with a new theme.

Just like, you can connect an individual Laconica account up with Twitter, but doing so would cut my account out of the picture. Beyond just the issue, I also want to be able to display a list of links in my sidebar, with expanded URLs, so folks get search engine mojo. I could aggregate tweets, but you end up with shortened URLs, not expanded URLs when you go from tweet to sidebar. Besides, a sidebar link and a tweet are not the same thing, with the same structure.

I finally created my own tweet workflow, as I like to call it.

  • First, I installed Laconica, created a single user account (at this time), and then disabled registration. I don’t want to run a Twitter alternative.
  • Next, I found software, RSSdent, which will take an RSS feed and submit the items as tweets to What I did was modify the application to submit the body of the feed without a link to the feed. The reason I don’t want the URL is that the feed I’m syndicating is my newly created Laconica installation. The body of the items will have the links that matter. Since I didn’t need any URL shortening (happening sooner in the process), I was able to trim much of the code, leaving a nice simple little application.
  • I set up a cron job so that items posted to my individual Laconica account will get posted to my account every hour.
  • I connected my account to my main Twitter account, at @shelleypowers. Now, when an item is posted in my account, it gets posted to Twitter.
  • I can individually post in my Laconica account, but I also want to capture the links for my main Drupal installation, at Burningbird. There is a Drupal Twitter module, which works with (by using as the alternative URL), or a Laconica account (in my case, using The only problem, though, is that this module is used to post a status update reflecting a new weblog post, not an interesting link. It gives you options to post the title, post link, and/or author, but not the body.
  • To work around the problem, I created a new content type, linkstory, with a custom content field (via CCK) that contains the link of interest and it’s link text. When I create a new linkstory, the body contains the tweet text and the expanded or shortened URL (depending on how long the URL is), but the CCK field contains the expanded link and the text I want for the link text.
  • I then created a view to display the content field text and URL, but not the body, or title of the posting.
  • I copied the Twitter module and did a small tweak (tweak, twitter, tweet — my head just blowed up) so that it outputs the body of the post, when I provided the !body label.
  • When a new linkstory is posted, the full link and link text get put into the sidebar, while the post body, containing the possibly shorted URL and any message get posted to my Laconica account.

The full workflow is: create a new linkstory or regular post in Drupal, which gets posted to my Laconica account via my modified Twitter module. Once a hour, these postings are picked up by rssdent, and posted to Posting on automatically posts to my Twitter account.

If Twitter goes offline, the posts still get made to If goes offline, the post is still made to my Laconica account, and the fully expanded URL for the link is posted to my main web site. My rssdent application keeps trying, once an hour, to post to, and hence to Twitter. My modification to the Twitter Drupal module was an addition, so I can tweet posts and links, alike.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it was only about a day’s fun playing around. I plan on submitting my small Twitter Drupal module tweak as a patch, and hopefully it will be accepted. It only adds new functionality at the cost of one line of code. I’ll check in my fork of rssdent, but I need to figure out how github works. The Laconica installation didn’t require any modification, once I made the code corrections. These corrections should be incorporated into the original application, hopefully soon.

Now, this isn’t spamming. Everything gets posted to one place, though if people are subscribed to my Twitter and accounts (or even my Laconica account), they’ll get an echo effect. This is just me grabbing hold of a little independence, while still partying with the communes. Setting my Bird free.

update I’m still getting familiar with the Twitter/Laconica API, but received a message via my account from csarven about remote subscriptions. I can subscribe to folks, as well as other Laconica sites, using the REST API. For a Laconica site, attach “?action=remoteSubscribe” to the URL, and you’ll get a page to enter the nickname of the person to whom you want to subscribe (at that site), and your remote profile, such as Or if you’re not logged into the system, just clicking the subscribe button next to the person’s avatar will open the Remote subscription page, automatically.

Once you enter the remote subscription request, you’re then taken back to your own site, where you have to accept the request. This prevents spamming. Once accepted, when you access your Home location, the postings from your remote friends will show up, in addition to postings from your friends who are local. You can also reply to the individual.

This functionality is also available for Twitter, built-in, but on my system, trying to use it caused errors. This is a known bug and a fix is currently being developed.

This is truly distributed, and decentralized, connectivity. You can’t take a system like this down, no more than you can take all email down, or all weblogs down. Way of the future.

Now, I must find out what other goodies are in the API…

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