With all the goings-on over the last few days in Iran, the 'twitterverse' and 'blogosphere' have been very active in either actively providing direct footage from the frontlines, or in people providing passive support, from posting messages of support with the tag #iranelection appended, or tinting their avatars green. Either way, whether its actually had an effect or not, there has been such a strong perception that twitter has played a central role that the US government even asked them to delay maintenance so that the people of Iran would continue to have a communication channel out of the country.
I read an interesting post by Danux reviewing Pete Ashton's post on Digital Literacy. One of the things that really hit home for me was the fact that although many people are now able to upload and share photos on facebook, video message their friends, and tweet away on twitter - very few people take the time to understand the architecture of their actions. In a phrase - 'they don't need to bother learning to use the service.' For the service provider, that's probably quite a succesful little result - but for innovation and development, it's a road to a dead end.
I say this, as there was lots of talk about what would have happened if twitter, a 2 year old start-up based in the Silicon Valley, went down and Iranian people were no longer able to communicate using that channel. This is an inherent problem with centralised systems, and although they are convenient in some respects, from a technical point of view they have the potential to collapse much more than decentralised systems. Identi.ca can be used in very much the same way as twitter, just by signing up to an account at http://www.identi.ca/ - but it also released the software that it runs on, so that if you require 'mission critical micro-blogging' (imagine that phrase just a few months back), you can set up your own instance of the software, and still link with the main sites.
The problem with this approach is that only the 'digital literate' people would do it, the majority of people don't want to understand how it all works. Here's a lovely excerpt from danux:
I want freedom to travel anywhere in the country, to see friends and to socialise. But I don't have the aptitude to build a car. I don't understand the physics, I could never explain to you what a G is, or how its affected by aerodynamics. I could try and make a car, sure. But it would be a bit rubbish. You see, I'm not a professional car making person. This is why if I wish to have the freedom to travel anywhere in the country I buy a car, from someone who has thought about all this for me. Buying things I don't understand, and being content with my ignorance is how the economy is supported.
In conclusion, enjoy twitter, enjoy identi.ca - but don't expect the average user to care about which you use.