Twitter and its Claims to Our Content

What bothers me most about Twitter’s upcoming API changes is Twitter’s apparent claim to our content. Not only is Twitter a service that was built upon the backs of third-party developers and their associated apps, but it is also a service that relies exclusively on content generated by its users1. Now, after users have been piping their content into the service for years, Twitter has decided to restrict the way that content can be viewed on the other end.

The argument for why this is problematic is very similar to the argument that has been had over various “read later” applications. Content controllers were upset because these applications stripped out the formatting and marketing associated with their content. Their opposition was countered by saying that, essentially, these read later sites are simply “text-only web browsers” and information on the web has always been viewable via such browsers. Through these read later applications, any content, no matter what platform posted or formatted it, can be viewed in a manner preferred by the end user.

Twitter aims to remove this ability with its “Display Requirements.” It prevents end clients, essentially browsers of Twitter’s user’s content, from displaying content generated by the users in a manner that the users would prefer2. This does not sit right with me. It is far too much control for a company to try exert over content that it did not create. The blocking of third-party clients is just one symptom of this much larger issue of control.


  1. One might argue that Facebook is similar in that it is built exclusively on user generated content. I would counter by saying that Facebook at least provides some extra value in its profiles, events, photos, etc… that is not available on Twitter. Stated another way, Facebook is more than simply the content of user’s status updates. 

  2. Twitter is technically limiting access to its API, not to various pages on its website that display the information. I feel that this does not change my argument. The exact technical method by which Twitter broadcasts their information does not change that it is essentially a broadcaster of information on the web.