Thursday, July 17, 2008

Twiggers: the web's new invocation mechanism (and of the Enterprise too)



A trend, or rather a necessity, exists to tunnel all tech discussions into that magnetic field called Twitter. But strange it seems only to those considering Twitter as yet-another-stupid-service-for-the-crowds, which is essentially true – on the surface. Yet beneath the shallow appearance, there's another Twitter: a prototype for, or a component of a globally distributed management infrastructure, the outlines of which I have extensively described across this blog's real-estate over the last couple of years.

Twiggers are perfectly suitable for demonstrating this idea of a global infrastructure. Their power, as I'll try to explain - is a r/evolution.

What's a Twigger? (I'm about to trademark this word)
Twigger's a tweet containing a URL. Each such a tweet is a call for an action, i.e. an invocation mechanism, a trigger. A Twigger.
Currently, Twiggers are the only structured information inside a Tweet (besides Twitter's own backbone directives, such as @, d etc., and besides any private semantics used among closed parties). Structured information is the basis for cost-efficient communication, and consequently for management & operation. Being the only structured part of a Tweet, Twiggers are the locus of management activity inside the Twitterosphere.

Remember - it's not the url that is special! it's the structure that makes a difference, and the url happened to be the only structured piece around.

The power of Twiggers

Actually, it's good to have a structure in the form of a URL, because the URL has evolved to carry pretty useful information over the years. For example, it can tell us that behind the slashes there's an application. We know that, if the URL contains signs such as ? and & - an indication for parameters passed to an API. We also know the location of this application or API, because the prefix of the URL is an address. Under the RESTful paradigm, we can quickly identify Resources, for instance, http://del.icio.us/tags/twigger is a syntax conveying semantics - about a resource named Twigger, of a type named tag. And, of course, in its most natural use, the URL indicates the existence of some other content behind it.

How's all that related to management, operations and a global infrastructure? the answer is evident when you start considering twitter from a pragmatics perspective, i.e. "how to do things with words", or how to do things with Tweets. Twiggers are created in order to achieve something by inducing others to re-act. The Twiterrer who created the twigger wants you, the follower, to click on the url, to change your virtual whereabouts to the specified address, and to read/interact with the content found at that location.

Therefore, at its very basics, every Twigger is an ad.

I wonder: what is the click-rate of Twiggers versus other ads?

And here we touched that area which starts shifting us towards management.
Take Tinyurl, for instance: a service, like many others that pop up every day now [and u'll soon see why], that shortens long urls, a needed optimization for the 140 chars tweets. Any click on a tinyurl goes first to tinyurl' servers, from which the click is redirected to the actual address. Right? Well, it's certainly correct in most cases, but this is not but a good guess, as I'll explain hereafter.

Once we stop considering tinyurl as a dumb router, we can see new opportunities for this broker. Tinyurl can deduct from that click all the following insights:

- what's hot in the virtual from a twitter's perspective (by counting the clicks to the same url, like Twitturly does)
- who's interested in what - both the twiterrer who created the twigger, and his/her followers who clicked on it.
etc.

Even more interesting are those capabilities not yet explored by such a brokerage service. For instance, if the twigger is a request to call an API, the URL being an HTTP/GET kind of a url, or any other agreed upon convention, then tinyurl can be the actual responder to that twigger's call, and actually invoke the API. In other words, one can creates a twigger, and by that invokes any logic, anywhere.

-> Twitter - a concise, natural-language medium (i.e. english vs. php) is capable of requesting the invocation of whatever application, business logic, operations etc.

(Fraud scenario: a twigger can state "a great article by Mike Arrington", but when u click the tinyurl, you've actually launched some obscure application, or reached an obscure territory)

What about notification? anytime someone responds to a twigger, tinyurl can send a mail, or a direct tweet to the twigger's creator, telling her all that is possible to know about the re-actionist. Or to the opposite - given basic listening capabilities to the twitterfeed, if no one responded to a twigger within a given time interval - then a notification is shot to whoever is generally interested in finding out what actions are carried out, when and by whom, i.e. the Manager.

We can also chain twiggers: if tinyurl identifies that someone invoked a specific twigger, it can create another twigger that will continue, let's say, a pending business transaction, or a workflow.

That, by the way, is "Twitter in the Enterprise", and not "can John twit with his external buddies while at the Enterprise", nor "can we use Twitter inside the Enterprise to enhance exchange of information among the employees".

And what's even more fantastic is that tinyurl is an abstraction layer, aligned with the ideas of decoupling and service-orientation, meaning that the real url could be altered behind the scenes, both location-wise and semantic-wise, creating an outcome not predicted by the twigger creator. Any Twigger is like that chaotic butterfly, creating a chain of unpredictable events.


Concluding notes

Twiggers are the new invocation mechanism of the web, the underlying infrastructure of all mesh-to-come. The twigger context achieves - business and management-wise - the same effect that has so far been possible by programming languages only.

As Twitter is the backbone, there will be an infinite number of brokers that will sniff, trap, process and react to twiggers - each having a different "agenda", serving different affinity-or-any-other-kind-of groups, interpreting and processing the same twigger differently.

Twiggers also mark a bizarre proximity between men and machines, for suddenly both species use the same protocol in order to communicate, the differences getting more and more blurred.

This, coupled with the ability to invoke any operation and business logic, is Enterprise2.0, is Twitter in the Enterprise, is what will change the landscape of getting/setting information by both men and machines, is what will break the barriers between Enterprisey walled-gardens and opened ones.

Finally, we've had URLs for years now, so what's the fuss about a URL? the fuss, again, is not about the URL per-se, but about Twitter being the Galactic Information Pot - one place to rule them all - and within that pot shines a tiny url - the only commonly understood, user-generated structure.

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