I tried Twitter a year ago and either couldn’t "get it" back then, or I was just mentally, philisophically or logicistically in the wrong place to appreciate it. But I recently started Tweeting and all of a sudden I am seeing real value in it and am also seeing how so many others who still are not using it could see value in it too!. And to slightly paraphrase an old saw, "There are none so evangelical as the recently converted…" ;-)
But rather than blog my full thoughts on Twitter right now I just want to ponder the following; if a web page can have a URL a.k.a. Universal Resource Locator (or for w3c purists, a URI), shouldn’t we establish a Universal Person Locators, for people, or "UPLs" for short?
I’ve actually pondered this question numerous times in the past as I contemplated one of my many web entrepreneurial ideas. In one context I’m lucky; there are very, very few people in this world whose name is "Mike Schinkel", and the few I’m aware of are not at all active on the web so I pretty much "own" the "MikeSchinkel" as my universal person identifier. I’ve so blanked the use of "MikeSchinkel" on the web that there is little change of anyone else actually wanting to use it lest they be confused with me (that is, unless they wanted to create that confusion. But that is another subject.)
But what about my friend David Cohen? From him I understand that he has the opposite situation. For him there are hundreds if not thousands of other David Cohens (to link but a few.) Poor guy; how does he get his name known for being him? But I digress.
Yes we can all have our own domain names, like I have http://mikeschinkel.com and my friend has http://davidcohen.com (can you believe he got that domain, with all that competition?!?), but so many people don’t have their own domain and for some people it takes more knowledge or effort then they are willing or able to invest. On the other hand getting a Twitter account is free to create and free to maintain and only requires 5 minutes and then occasional access to an Internet-connected computer which in the USA and most non-3rd world countries can be had at the library or an Internet cafe. Once a twitter account is created, that’s it; no one else can stake that claim.
Now, thanks to some rather saavy engineers at Twitter and the brilliance of the underlying technology of the web (i.e. the URL) we now have what could potentially become the Universal Person Locator, at least within the subset of people are active on the web. With someone’s Twitter URL you have a direct way to "locate" them. Minimally you can follow their updates, but for most Twitter users you can relatively easily contact them; just tweet them and most will reply. Just as importantly you can use someone’s Twitter user name and unambiguously refer to them by that unique identifier which behaves for people just like URLs behave for "resources" (i.e. web pages, PDF files, graphic files, .ZIP files, etc.)
Will Twitter ever make it’s way to effectively being the "Universal Person Locator." Probably not for all people, but at least for the subset of people on Twitter, it is a really interesting piece of infrastructure to consider. And if you don’t yet have a Twitter account, now’s the time to get one.
P.S. So can you guess my Twitter user name? "MikeSchinkel", of course. David Cohen’s Twitter user name? "davidscohen"; Unlike with his domain name, "davidcohen" had already been taken on Twitter (by a duffus that’s not even using it!) before my friend David Cohen could grab it. Ah, such is life when resources are scarce.