whoisi impressions

what's wrong

For many years now, I've been wanting to jump on the RSS bandwagon, so I could be "in" on multivariate, decentralized conversations -- friends and colleagues blathering into the ether(net). You know the story.

But RSS readers: what a drag. I could never really articulate my quease, except that there was something that my beloved advogato and planet.gnome.org had that the RSS readers lacked.

That is, until today, while checking out whoisi: People aren’t Inboxes. The simple time ordering from the planets is far superior. Older entries can just drop off into the googletron.

what's right

Whoisi is right! In many ways:

  • No accounts, no login. You just go there and use it.

    Granted, you probably will want to read the people you're interested in from multiple computers -- in that case you're provided with a simple link that you can mail yourself.

  • No accounts, no login. Anyone can add identity to any person.

    This is a really bold piece of whoisi: Anyone can edit a person's identity. Since there are no accounts, there is no "me" -- it's all just people on the intertubes.

    This has the upside that you don't need your friends to join whoisi to "follow" them there, you can just add them yourself, attaching their public weblog feed, flickr photos, etc. Whoisi has the capacity to swallow the whole intertron, without diminishing its value as Facebook etc are apt to do.

  • Open data. All of the identities are available via simple web requests.

Whoisi has a couple of downsides currently though:

  • Some information is still proprietary.

    In particular, the set of people that you "follow" cannot be extracted from the site. Since the system doesn't have a notion of "you", the question is isomorphic to not being able to extract the followers of any particular anonymous, cookie-identified user. There's no answer to the question, "how many people are following XYZ person".

    On the other hand, exposing who a user reads has clear privacy concerns, and the site makes it easy enough to "follow" someone (one click! really!) that this is not a large expropriation of my data (i.e. I can easily recreate my list).

  • The site itself is not free software.

    Using a site like this is an investment of time and effort on my part -- one that probably pays off in the short term. But if Whoisi were to undergo an aggressive monetization a year from now, to the point that I wouldn't want to use the site any more, my investment could become a net loss.

    If Whoisi were free software, I would have peace of mind, knowing that if the site went bad, that I or others could set up a copy of my own for the subset of the intertron that I am interested in.

chocolate jesus

But all in all, I think the current balance is in Whoisi's favor -- I'm going to see about using it instead of planets.

Whoisi follows RSS' loose federation model, in which the reader chooses the writers, without intermediary editors. And as a side benefit, finally I can hear what people drop into the twitterbowl.

Convinced? Take a stroll around, and add yourself if you write. Let me know how it works out!

3 responses

  1. Craig says:

    Christopher Blizzard, who created whoisi, has mentioned numerous times that he intends to Free whoisi. However, he has not yet come through for the code, and I'm not clear on what his intentions for the data are. Hopefully, he'll eventually make whoisi an Open Service but until then, I plan on keeping whoisi at arms length.

  2. Christopher Blizaard says:

    The source code is up but the docs aren't done so I haven't promoted it at all. It is otherwise pretty confusing to navigate. MIT license on the code.

  3. wingo says:

    Christopher: Oh lovely, I wasn't aware that you were going in this direction. That's excellent!

Comments are closed.