The awful practice of cross-pollinating status updates

If there is one thing that has gone awfully wrong with the open APIs for pushing and pulling data into various online communities, it is the horrible practice of plugging one thought stream through the API into another in an automated manner.

What exactly is a thought stream? Well, thought streams are more frequently updated status messages. They have been around for years known as custom status messages on instant messengers, which got spun around, made over and turned into a superstar product by the guys at Twitter. These days, status messages are there in every online networking product — be it Linkedin, Facebook, Orkut, Hi5.

Which is all fine. A few more wisecracks a day does not really make the world a better or suckier place. What does make it suckier is that cross-pollination of these messages often lead to broken conversation threads, misplaced context and other byproducts of the law of unintended consequences.

In real life this is how it happens: You can plug in your Twitter stream to update your Facebook status message. But your replies to the Facebook status message remains within Facebook. So you post a message to Twitter, this gets replicated on Facebook. Someone replies to that update on Facebook, but unless you are a Facebook maniac (a dying breed, if you ask me, these days), odds are that you won't see the response till much later.

Killing the conversation: The primary issue this cross pollination creates is that it breaks the conversation. While the tiny updates are the core functionality of Twitter, it is not the case with the larger networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. When you plug in the updates from one product into another, it is hard to know, at face value, where that update originated from, leading to instances where the message origin and message response belong to different networks. The end result? Death of the conversation.

Context breakage: Secondly, different networks have different contexts attached to them. My Twitter stream is a whole lot more casual than my LinkedIn activity stream, which is the same, I think, with most people. The fact is that, eventually, the same messaging does not work with different groups and communities. Plugging one into another can have disastrous consequences. What maybe kosher on one network, vis-a-vis, the audience, may not be acceptable on another. With cross pollination, it is hard to know what exactly is seen by whom.

Network latency, throttling issues: Third and last, when you cross-pollinate, you are also introducing network latency and throttling into the equation. Different networks allow for injection and extraction data under the terms that make sense to them, which may not be the same as pushing out and pulling in updates as fast as possible. As a result, your updates maybe throttled at the other network's end, resulting in only a handful of your updates showing up there.