If Twitter were invented today, would it have a 140-character text limit, tying it so strongly to SMS? Would photos, audio, and video content be absent from the core of the service? Would the user community have to invent the hash tag to create ad-hod content channels?
A new platform, Mobli, shows what a more contemporary, practically post-literate nano-blog service can look like.
To be clear, Mobli is not a direct competitor to Twitter. It doesn't have a way to create a text-only update, for one thing. It's designed for quickly sharing photos and videos, and, technically at least, it does a better job of it than Twitter.
As the name implies, Mobli is designed for mobile devices. Currently, in its pre-launch private beta, users can only view content, but not update their streams, from the Web site. Posting is easy from a smartphone (I tried the iPhone app). But more importantly, Mobli adds context that Twitter does not. Cities or regions where there's a lot happening show up as trending in the main feed, with specific locations broken out. You can also watch an event (a public event like concert, or a private wedding, if you have access to it) to get a more full picture of what's happening than you would by just following one person there. In this way, Mobli is slightly reminiscent of Color.
Users can post to, and watch, specific topics, without following particular people. Mobli's Gil Eyal explained it: "If I like cars, I don't need to be friends with everyone else who does." It's better than the search-on-a-hash-tag workaround you need with Twitter.
There's a lot that's right about Mobli. I found it more engaging than. Unfortunately, it's got a slow slog ahead of it. In trying to specifically not be Twitter -- by not having a way to post text updates -- Mobli forces users into the visual modality for updates. That's not right for everyone or for all posts. So users will still need Twitter or Facebook for creating text updates.
And Mobli, like most other modern social services, depends on Twitter and Facebook for growth. Without them, it would be incredibly difficult for this or any service to get social traction. So you can post updates from Mobli to either of these services, and invite friends from them. That will win some visitors and users, but I doubt it'll be enough to kick Mobli into the big leagues. Nor does it feel different enough from the existing social networks, as the person-to-person video sharing Knocking Live is, to break out.
How do you get people to use a mobile video app in big, overwhelming numbers? There's another app I saw recently that approaches things from a completely different direction, and I think it works. I'll cover it shortly.
Mobli is in private beta at the moment. It should launch sometime this month.