Microblogging, especially through Twitter, but also through its cousin, Facebook statuses, has become the thing of late. I have little doubt that, like most things that are "the thing", its popularity will fade into the landfill of fads.

In one sense, I have never truly "gotten" microblogging. To be sure, I understand the idea of short (140 characters, if you are a Twitterer) messages--and I have always found them to be a sign of a declining societal intellect. Once, our forefathers, in the 18th century, conducted flamewars in large, thick volumes (if any one doubts me, read up on Alexander Pope and the rivalries that spawned the delightful Dunciad). Now, we discuss grave matters in only 140 characters.

But lately, I have been wondering if a development team might not be the ideal place to put microblogging to good use. Most teams have neither the time nor the inclination to write and maintain copious notes on design and implementation, but they do have running dialog. Shared knowledge makes the discussions short, for the most part, and the decisions and information passed on are so short as to almost be not worth the effort. Wikis are a step in the right direction, but these are far too much like the longer documents that no one wishes to maintain.

The Twitter model of lots of short little notes might actually be a good fit to the stream of consciousness that pervades every development team. Architecture discussions could be left on a private microblogging platform of sorts. A private set up also allows all of the notes to be made semipublic by default, so we avoid the problem of emails where things can (in larger organizations than the one I am in) get caught up into a he-said she-said that could only be cleared up by a sysadmin. The use of Twitter-style @ and # notation would make it easier to cross-reference development notes.

This is actually the same advantage it has over IRC, the traditional hacker standby. Since ever thing is public or semipublic by default, no one has to remember to log the conversation or post the log--or rile up feathers because a log was kept at all.

The largest irony of these musings, is that I know full well that, in one sense, the only purpose I have found for microblogging is in flagrant violation of the model put forth by the site that made it popular, Twitter. On Twitter, everything is public. If, hypothetically, my wife and I were to twitter notes back and forth about family matters (e.g. can you pick up some milk on the way home?), it is public. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is superfluous fluff to just about everyone on the world wide web.

Incidentally, this is why, if you really want to do something like that, set up a private instance of microblogging software. The only valid use your present whereabouts can be to the general public, is as an invitation to be stalked.

But, back on topic, I think that is what is wrong with the microblogging model in the first place. The vast majority of what I have to say in < 140 characters, is something that is not really worthwhile for more than a select few to hear.

There are exceptions, of course.

Some musicians I like use it extensively for tour announcements and to push each others' stuff. It makes perfect sense. There will be a lot of tour announcements that I, as a fan, am interested in that are less than 140 characters. Where are you appearing? When? (For smaller groups, this information changes a lot, and quickly). Oh, that new album is out?

Most of us are not those exceptions, but I think that when you put some constraints on topic matter and audience, there is definite potential. What I would be the most curious to see, would be an open source project that relies primarily on Twitter or Identi.ca for dev discussions, instead of IRC or email. That would, I think, be the ultimate test of the merit of the idea.

Finally, a little googling made me painfully aware that I am not the only one to have such thoughts. I even saw a few academic papers on the subject, though I have not yet had time to read through them. I think a little survey of the literature on this blog might very well be forthcoming...