Don’t Anger Twitter. They Own You. Or Your Words. Or Not.

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As you know, there’s this Twitter thing making the rounds of the Intertubes. All the kids are doing it. People have stopped blogging. 140 characters is the limit for most anything you have to say. Which of course means I’ve already gone too far here.

Yikes! Stay with me, please.

I’m not going to do a rant against Twitter. Twitter drives me crazy, but I use it, and I’ve suggested that you need to, also, more than a few times. But last week Twitter fired a shot heard across the Internet when they turned off the services of several of the companies that make Twitter “client” software. Coopetition? What Coopetition?

Maybe you didn’t even realize there was such a thing as Twitter client software. Million of Twitter’s users go directly to the Twitter website to use the Twitter service, and let’s face it; Twitter likes it that way. But Twitter has published an Application Program Interface (API) which is the software that makes it possible to use Twitter without going to Twitter.com.

In this image, I’ve marked all the tweets that came from client software with a RED dot. Note that only one tweet has a BLACK Dot; it was submitted through Twitter’s web site:

Using Twitter Via API and Client Software

So having opened their ecosystem to use by outsiders, Twitter decided last week that a few very popular clients were “violating the Twitter terms of service”. And when Twitter made this decision they did so without any warning, and simply cut off those clients.

Ultimately, and absent a contract stating otherwise, Twitter (or you, or anyone) has the right to make decisions like this and act as they see fit. And by stating that their reason for cutting off the effected software from access to their API had to do with the aforementioned violation of the Twitter terms of service and also was related to supposed “privacy violations” Twitter casts themselves as good guys and probably short circuits legal action preemptively.

But that isn’t the point.

To stand up and claim, as you are when you release an API, that you’re interested in practicing coopetition as part of your business change efforts, you take on a responsibility to a communications standard that goes beyond merely acting unilaterally. Twitter could have asked the companies with supposedly “in violation” software to make changes, but they didn’t. Twitter cut the software off, and then reinstated each of them after changes were made (link replicated here in case Twitter removes the page linked above):

Why?

Twitter has their own client software. And They Might Like Having The Traffic That Their Coopetors Send Them, But They’d Rather Control That Traffic Themselves.

When Twitter shut off access to their API by the “violators”, they then immediately sent a couple of tweets out to all users of the violators’ client software telling us that the software had been disabled and redirecting us to the official Twitter client software. I saw those messages on my Droid, and because I wanted access to my Tweet stream I followed Twitter’s instructions to switch to their client software.

And yes, I could switch back, but now that Twitter “has me”, they’re betting I’m going to stay. It reminds me of the situation at Hubspot. Once you’re in, you’re in.

Of course, unlike with Hubspot I’m not leaving Twitter and I have the option of using other client software. But what Twitter did last week is unconscionable. And violates the spirit of coopetition.

Consider yourself . . . advised.

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