Twitter Iran RT chaos

From Twitter in the last few minutes, a chaos of echo’d posts about army moves. Just a few excerpts here by copy/paste, mostly without the all-important timestamps. Without tools to trace reports to their source, to claims about their source from credible intermediaries, or evidence, this isn’t directly useful. Even grassroots journalists needs evidence. I wonder how Witness and Identi.ca fit into all this. I was thinking today about an “(person) X claims (person) Y knows about (topic) Z” notation, perhaps built from FOAF+SKOS. But looking at this “Army moving in…” claim, I think something couched in terms of positive claims (along lines of the old OpenID showcase site Jyte) might be more appropriate.

The following is from my copy/paste from Twitter a few minutes ago. It gives a flavour of the chaos. Note also that observations from very popular users (such as stephenfry) can echo around for hours, often chased by attempts at clarification from others.

(“RT” is Twitter notation for re-tweet, meaning that the following content is redistributed, often in abbreviated or summarised form)

plotbunnytiff: RT @suffolkinace: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
r0ckH0pp3r: RT .@AliAkbar: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
jax3417: RT @ktyladie: RT @GennX: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection #iran
ktladie: RT @GennX: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection #iran
MellissaTweets: RT @AliAkbar: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
GennX: RT @MelissaTweets: RT @AliAkbar: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection

The above all arrived at around the same time, and cite two prior “sources”:

suffolkinnace: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection   18 minutes ago from web

Who is this? Nobody knows of course, but there’s a twitter bio:

http://twitter.com/suffolkinace # Bio Some-to-be Royal Military Policeman in the British Army. Also a massive Xbox geek and part-time comedian

The other “source” seems to be http://twitter.com/AliAkbar
AliAkbar: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
about 1 hour ago from web
url http://republicmodern.com

This leads us to   http://republicmodern.com/about where we’re told
“Ali Akbar is the founder and president of Republic Modern Media. A conservative blogger, he is a contributor to Right Wing News, Hip Hop Republican, and co-host of The American Resolve online radio show. He was also the editor-in-chief of Blogs for McCain.”

I should also mention that a convention emerged in the last day two replace the names of specific local Twitter users in Tehran with a generic “from Iran”, to avoid getting anyone into trouble. Which makes plenty of sense, but without any in the middle vouching for sources makes it even harder to know which reports to take seriously.
More… back to twitter search, what’s happened since I started this post?

http://twitter.com/#search?q=iranelection%20army

badmsm: RT @dpbkmb @judyrey: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLZ RT! URGENT! #IranElection #gr88
SimaoC: RT @parizot: CONFIRMÉ! L’armée se dirige vers Téhéran contre les manifestants! #IranElection #gr88
SpanishClash: RT @mytweetnickname: RT From Iran:ARMY movement NOT confirmed in last 2:15, plz RT this until confrmed #IranElection #gr88
artzoom: RT @matyasgabor @humberto2210: RT CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLEASE RT! #IranElection #iranrevolution
sjohnson301: RT @RonnyPohl From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection #iran9
dauni: RT @withoutfield: RT: @tspe: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
interdigi: RT @ivanpinozas From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
PersianJustice: Once again, stop RT army movements until source INSIDE Iran verifies! Paramilitary is the threat anyway. #iranelection #gr88
Klungtveit Anyone: What’s the origin of reports of “army moving in” on protesters? #iranelection
Eruethemar: RT @brianlltdhq: RT @lumpuckaroo: Only IRG moving, not national ARMY… this is confirmed for real #IranElection #gr88
SAbbasRaza: RT @bymelissa: RT @alexlobov: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
timnilsson: RT @Iridium24: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
edmontalvo: RT @jasona: RT @Marble68: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
stevelabate: RT army moving into Tehran against protesters. Please RT. #iranelection
ivanpinozas: From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection
bschh: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection (via @dlayphoto)
dlayphoto: RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protestors! PLEASE RT! URGENT! #IranElection

In short … chaos!

Is this just a social / information problem, or can different tooling and technology help filter out what on earth is happening?

Be your own twitter: laconi.ca microblog platform and identi.ca

The laconi.ca microblogging platform is as open as you could hope for. That elusive trinity: open source; open standards; and open content.

The project is led by Evan Prodromou (evan) of Wikitravel fame, whose company just launched identi.ca, “an open microblogging service” built with Laconica. These are fast gaining feature-parity with twitter; yesterday we got a “replies” tab; this morning I woke to find “search” working. Plenty of interesting people have  signed up and grabbed usernames. Twitter-compatible tools are emerging.

At first glance this might look the typical “clone” efforts that spring up whenever a much-loved site gets overloaded. Identi.ca‘s success is certainly related to the scaling problems at Twitter, but it’s much more important than that. Looking at FriendFeed comments about identi.ca has sometimes been a little depressing: there is too often a jaded, selfish “why is this worth my attention?” tone. But they’re missing something. Dave Winer wrote a “how to think about identi.ca” post recently; worth a read, as is the ever-wise Edd Dumbill on “Why identica is important”. This project deserves your attention if you value Twitter, or if you care about a standards-based decentralised Social Web.

I have a testbed copy at foaf2foaf.org (I’ve been collecting notes for Laconica installations at Dreamhost). It is also federated. While there is support for XMPP (an IM interface) the main federation mechanism is based on HTTP and OAuth, using the openmicroblogging.org spec. Laconica supports OpenID so you can play  without needing another password. But the OpenID usage can also help with federation and account matching across the network.

Laconica (and the identi.ca install) support FOAF by providing a FOAF files  – data that is being indexed already by Google’s Social Graph API. For eg. see  my identi.ca FOAF; and a search of Google SGAPI for my identi.ca account.  It is in PHP (and MySQL) – hacking on FOAF consumer code using ARC is a natural step. If anyone is interested to help with that, talk to me and to Evan (and to Bengee of course).

Laconica encourages everyone to apply a clear license to their microblogged posts; the initial install suggests Creative Commons Attribution 3. Other options will be added. This is important, both to ensure the integrity of this a system where posts can be reliably federated, but also as part of a general drift towards the opening up of the Web.

Imagine you are, for example, a major media content owner, with tens of thousands of audio, video, or document files. You want to know what the public are saying about your stuff, in all these scattered distributed Social Web systems. That is just about do-able. But then you want to know what you can do with these aggregated comments. Can you include them on your site? Horrible problem! Who really wrote them? What rights have they granted? The OpenID/CC combination suggests a path by which comments can find their way back to the original publishers of the content being discussed.

I’ve been posting a fair bit lately about OAuth, which I suspect may be even more important than OpenID over the next couple of years. OAuth is an under-appreciated technology piece, so I’m glad to see it being used nicely for Laconica. Laconica installations allow you to subscribe to an account from another account elsewhere in the Web. For example, if I am logged into my testbed site at http://foaf2foaf.org/bandri and I visit http://identi.ca/libby, I’ll get an option to (remote-)subscribe. There are bugs and usability problems as of right now, but the approach makes sense: by providing the url of the remote account, identi.ca can bounce me over to foaf2foaf which will ask “really want to subscribe to Libby? [y/n]“, setting up API permissioning for cross-site data flow behind the scenes.

I doubt that the openmicroblogging spec will be the last word on this kind of syndication / federation. But it is progress, practical and moving fast. A close cousin of this design is the work from the SMOB (Semantic Microblogging) project, who use SIOC, FOAF and HTTP. I’m happy to see a conversation already underway about bridging those systems.

Do please consider supporting the project. And a special note for Semantic Web (over)enthusiasts: don’t just show up and demand new RDF-related features. Either build them yourself or dive into the project as a whole. Have a nose around the buglist. There is of course plenty of scope for semwebbery, but I suggest a first priority ought to be to help the project reach a point of general usability and adoption. I’ve nothing against Twitter just as I had nothing at all against Six Apart and Movable Type, back before they opensourced. On the contrary, Movable Type was a great product from great people. But the freedoms and flexibility that opensource buys us are hard to ignore. And so I use WordPress now, having migrated like countless others. My suspicion is we’re at a “WordPress/MovableType” moment here with Identica/Laconica and Twitter, and that of all the platforms jostling to be the “new twitter”, this one is most deserving of success. With opensource, Laconica can be the new Laconica…

You can follow me here identi.ca/danbri