It’s almost like a modern koan: If a crowd-powered tweeting platform gets shut down by Twitter, can it work on Facebook instead?
You remember Thunderclap, the experimental crowdsourcing platform for people who could back messages they supported in order to spread the word en masse across the Twitterverse? And remember how Twitter took all of one day to effectively shut it down, likely because it stole, well, thunder from Twitter's own Promoted Products?
Well, it's back—and this time it's on Facebook.
Ever since Twitter suspended Thunderclap’s access to its API two weeks ago (Twitter did not respond to a request for comment for this story), the five-man team has been plugging away building for Facebook's platform. Later today, Human Rights Watch will kick off the first Thunderclap campaign for Facebook, with a message directed toward the International Olympic Committee regarding Saudi Arabia’s decision to ban its women from competing in the London Olympics. If Human Rights Watch reaches its goal of 500 supporters by June 27, we'll start to see Thunderclaps making their rounds on Facebook.
The premise behind Thunderclap is simple: Find a message featured on Thunderclap’s site about a cause you support, then "back" the message, which authorizes the platform to send the message out on your behalf.
On Facebook, the process is essentially the same, except instead of a mass tweet, Thunderclap will post the messages you support to your Facebook timeline as status updates that will also show up in friends’ News Feeds. For now, the messages will be limited to Twitter’s 140-character limit, for brevity.
Although Thunderclap doesn’t have a guarantee that Facebook isn’t going to pull a Twitter (along with its API access), this time around, the team consciously tried to comply with all possible developer regulations, says Hashem Bajwa, who heads De-De, the studio that created Thunderclap.
"Their ultimate mission is to get more people to share more things," Bajwa tells Fast Company. "Thunderclap helps fuel that sharing, but with a purpose."
The current wave of Internet users has become incredibly agile at building substantial communities around causes, through platforms such as Kickstarter, Change.org, and Indiegogo. For now, that same social-good mentality is what drives Thunderclap, but it’s not hard to imagine how powerful organizations could leverage Thunderclap for other causes. So far, Thunderclap has had unsolicited approaches from the White House, Al Jazeera, Glenn Beck's team, and the United Nations.
Thunderclap’s long-term plan has always been to expand to other platforms that included Facebook, Bajwa says, but the abrupt Twitter shutdown demanded quicker action than he had anticipated. Thunderclap is still doggedly pursuing a dialogue with Twitter's support team and company executives, but they say they haven’t received much palpable feedback yet.
Whether Twitter's lack of response indicates indifference or fear remains unclear, but a healthy chunk of Twitter's business model—which relies almost entirely on ad sales—relies on its suite of Promoted Products, which includes Promoted Tweets, Promoted Trends, and Promoted Accounts that it sells to businesses. (Twitter doesn't provide public revenue breakdowns, but an eMarketer report earlier this year forecasted Twitter will generate $259 million in ad revenue this year.) It's easy to see how any business would prefer to use a free and more organic alternative that is powered by the support of members of the exact demographic its ads and messages target.
But taking on big brands and corporations isn't on Thunderclap's agenda just yet. The potential applications are massive, but with great power comes a great amount of work that will easily overrun a five-person team. For now, Bajwa has his mind set on getting through Day 1. The rest—whether that's expanding to other social platforms such as Tumblr or Pinterest or organizing offline movements in the style of Occupy Wall Street—can come later.
"I don’t want to pollute the Internet," Bajwa says with a dose of apprehension. "Our guiding mission has always been to add a touch of humanity and purposefulness to everything we create."
[Image: Flickr user Kheel Center, Cornell University]
Follow Christina Chaey on, yes, Twitter.