Over at Identica — the open-source, feature-rich microblogging service which I greatly prefer to the faddish Twitter — I’m collaborating on a chain poem with librarian-blogger Patricia Anderson. It’s probably still quite a few days from completion, but those with an interest in the creative process and/or in social media and micromessaging technology might be interested in following the poem’s slow progress.
Twitter users will notice right away that they’re not in Kansas anymore. Up until a few weeks ago, each reply to another Identica user had a Twitter-like “in reply to” link at the bottom, and you could only follow conversations by clicking backward from one such link to another. But now, as the official description of the latest version of the underlying Laconica software puts it:
Related notices are organized into conversations, with each reply a branch in a tree. Conversations have pages and are linked to from each notice in the conversation.
In the current styling, each nested level is a slightly darker shade of gray, so that a back-and-forth between two people resembles an inverted staircase descending into darkness. A perfect medium for poetry!
Actually, I had wanted to have staggered verses, which would entail replying each time to the other person’s earliest post in the conversation, but Patricia wanted to let the conversation proceed naturally and keep nesting deeper with each reply instead. The poem can end, she suggested, at the point where replies no longer nest. We’re not sure exactly when that will be, but we should have at least another week at our current rate of one or two posts per day. I proposed the topic: “in the news,” with regular images drawn from current, international news stories. You can see our conversation about the poetic conversation — the meta-poem — here.
This is, as far as I know, the first collaborative poem in Identica written to take advantage of the conversations feature, though earlier collaborations, such as this one between Carolee and Blythe, have been threaded retroactively. I imagine that when we’re done, we’ll repost the entire conversation at Open Micro, so I’m not too worried about keeping the thread free of non-poetry replies. In fact, I thought it was pretty cool when an Identica user from Ukraine — Kobzahrai, whom I got to know initially as a fellow member of the blues group — responded appreciatively to my opening sally about the strange mayor of Kiev.
Identica has a small but active poetry community, lured there by such features as groups and favorite notices. Belonging to groups such as poetry, writers, haiku, or lyrics can greatly help reduce the noise-to-signal ratio in your feed, because you don’t need to subscribe to someone who writes 90 percent of the time about Ubuntu, for example, just to see their occasional haiku. And while Twitter also allows you to save favorite posts by other users, only Identica notifies you when someone favors one of your posts. The six most popular posts of the day appear at the top of the sidebar on the front page of Identica, and a longer compendium of currently popular posts is one click away. And perhaps because we poetry fans are inveterate word-hoarders, we probably “favorite” things more often than other users, giving an impression to casual visitors that Identica is — as someone once told Evan Prodromou, the lead developer — “Twitter for poets.”
Incidentally, if you follow me on Twitter and are wondering why you’re not seeing my half of our collaborative poem there, too, that’s because I’ve elected not to send my “@” replies across the automatic bridge that Identica provides.* Most Twitter folks already struggle to make sense of a morass of atomized messages, and I don’t see any point in subjecting them to additional fragments. Twitter is increasingly about broadcasting anyway; “power users” compete to see who can acquire the most followers, with whom conversations will generally be limited to one-way exercises in “crowd sourcing.” If you want true conversation, group-enabled camaraderie, or poems longer than 140 characters (multi-authored renga? Ballads? Epics?) Identica is the place to be.
*The lead developers of Identica are committed to an open microblogging protocol, which if ever fully adopted would mean that users of competing micromessaging services would be able to subscribe and reply to each other without leaving their own service, just as we now do with competing email services. The people who run Twitter, like AOL and Comcast in days of yore, don’t seem to see the need to give their users that freedom, so Twitter is still essentially a silo.