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Twitter Changes Its Terms

failwhale

In March 2011 Twitter announced some upcoming changes to its Terms of Use which would affect developers. This is really an understatement as what they’ve actually done is fundamentally redefined how they would like their service to be used and what developers ought to be using it for.

What’s new?

The most important changes can be broken down in to two main principles:

1. All requests to the Twitter API must tied to a developer’s account. If the number of requests a developer makes passes a threshold, then charges may be imposed.

Deep integration of the API including anything with account details has always required a secure request tied to a developer’s account. However requests to the public timeline and search pages has until now been available to anonymous requests.

In theory this shouldn’t affect small-scale projects with just a few thousand requests per month but it will discourage people from creating even small scale applications because of the fear that they may become too successful and start becoming expensive before the app really makes the money to justify it.

One of my projects is Tweetedtrips.com which makes use of anonymous client-side requests to the Twitter API to fetch data by all the visitors to the site, creating a type of cloud-computing resource that I couldn’t afford to pay for at a server farm. It would be possible to re-write this to the all the requestsa re signed to my developer account, but it’s risky to spend all that time when the site may be shut down by the second change.

2. If you want to request a Tweet and display it on your own website or app it must be in a format specifically defined by Twitter. No re-formatting Tweets.

This is the most perplexing rule which in theory will mean the millions of websites which display their latest tweets on the home page will be outlawed. Lots of very successful services which make use of the rich data made available through Twitter have already started closing down because they simply can’t exist without the flexibility to display the tweet data in different ways.

I don’t know how or if they are planning on enforcing this rule. Presumably they will pursue site which they see as competition or don’t like the look of and ignore any small infringements like personal blogs. But once again, having this threat that you could be shut down at any moment is going to discourage a lot of developers from pursuing ideas based upon Twitter data.

The end is nigh

These changes come in to force in March 2013, so until that date we won’t know how strictly this will be enforced or how many services will be affected.

What does this mean for me?

There are already some big names which have had to change the way they work, or drop their Twitter integration altogether like Instagram.

This move has angered a lot of developers and many may think twice before selecting Twitter as a data source to play with in the future. Twitter has reached a size now where it is ubiquitous and invaluable for a lot of companies. It’s a bold move to try and start to dictate how their service should be used after it has grown so quickly due to massive public uptake, but when you hold all the cards you also get to dictate the terms.

I actually don’t have a problem with them needing to authenticate all requests, and to charge for larger users after all they have to make money somehow. I do have a problem with them potentially charging to retrieve Twitter data then dictating how it may be displayed.

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