Twitter is a “Stupid Network” (the good kind)

I’m sure I’m not the first to point out this analogy, but one of the things that makes Twitter interesting is how it parallels the “stupid network” model, as prescribed by David Isenberg in The Rise of the Stupid Network.

Twitter embraces the end-to-end principle which is a central design principle of the Internet itself.  A “stupid network” is one  that merely passes packets independent of the what application uses the data in those packets. In other words, the network has little knowledge about the contents of the packets it handles and exerts little influence over them.

Twitter passes 140 character “packets” (tweets), acting as a “stupid network” for the most part. Twitter does not interpret the contents of a tweet – it passes whatever data the tweet contains. Some applications “overload” tweets with special content recognized by that application. This end-to-end model permits myriad uses of the underlying network and fosters incredible innovation.

Over time, Twitter has become slightly more “inteligent” interpreting “hashtags”, url-shortened links etc., but it still permits all kinds of application-specific data.

At first look, Twitter becoming more “intelligent” about the contents of tweets may appear to be a good thing.  But it is a slipery slope. Once they start adding meaning to the 140 characters, the network becomes more restrictive. The more Twitter remains a “stupid network” the better, IMHO. By deciding to be “stupid” and supporting the end-to-end prinicple, Twitter is inviting creative minds to use their “network” for new applications, which, it turns out, is a very smart thing to do.