UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

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Archive for March 24th, 2011

Twitter Export Functionality Returns to Twapper Keeper

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 March 2011

On 17 March Twitter updated the terms of service for use of their APIs:

You may export or extract non-programmatic, GUI-driven Twitter Content as a PDF or spreadsheet by using “save as” or similar functionality

In light of these changes, as described on the Twapper Keeper blog, John O’Brien, the Twapper Keeper developer has “decided to bring the “Save as Excel” link back online when viewing an archive. This will allow you to get the currently viewed content into an Excel file for review.

This will be good news for those who were not able to take action following last week’s post that there were only “A Few Days Left to Download a Structured Archive of Tweets“.

The changes in Twitter policies on use of its APIs will have been a result of a backlash following Twitter’s announcement that it was more rigorously enforcing its terms and conditions which appeared to be inhibiting development of third party Twitter applications such as Twapper Keeper.

It should be noted, however, that the terms of service state that:

You will not attempt or encourage others to: sell, rent, lease, sublicense, redistribute, or syndicate access to the Twitter API or Twitter Content to any third party without prior written approval from Twitter.

and go on to add:

Exporting Twitter Content to a datastore as a service or other cloud based service, however, is not permitted.

The first condition is clearly intended to ensure that Twitter is in a position to commercially exploit its content and services (note back in February there were stories being published which speculated that twitter could be sold for up to $10 Bn). It should be noted that the second condition would appear to prohibit Twitter content from being hosted on cloud services for use by others, even if there is no financial gain. Twitter, it seems, is turning itself into a silo, with only limited capabilities for data export and reuse. Perhaps it is seeking to emulate Facebook’s approaches in this respect.

Is this an unacceptable approach from a private company which, like Facebook, seems to be seeking to maximise financial gain from content provided by its users? Should we not be looking to move to an alternative microblogging environment, such as, which Wikipedia states: “While offering functionality similar to Twitter, StatusNet seeks to provide the potential for open, inter-service and distributed communications between microblogging communities. Enterprises and individuals can install and control their own services and data.

I think we ought to be very careful before making such moves. In part this is because of the importance of one’s social network to effective use of such social web services and also in light of the importance of the variety of tools and services which have been developed around Twitter and its ease of use on a variety of devices and environments – including watching TV programmes such as Question Time, for which use of Twitter as a back channel is now well established.

But in addition we need to consider whether, in light of the current political and economic climes, we should be over critical of organisations which make money out of services we use for free. We should also recognise that services developed in UK Higher Education may also prohibit commercial exploitation of content.  For example the policies for the University of Bath’s Opus institutional repository states that:

The metadata must not be re-used in any medium for commercial purposes without formal permission.

This policy was created using the OpenDOAR policy tool. My understanding is that the policy described above is intended to prevent others from commercially exploiting repository metadata. Is this fundamentally different from Twitter’s statement that:

You will not attempt or encourage others to: sell, rent, lease, sublicense, redistribute, or syndicate access to the Twitter API or Twitter Content to any third party without prior written approval from Twitter.

I think it is unfortunate that Twitter have chosen to make it more difficult for others to make use of twitter content, whether for commercial gain or not. But if a broad aim of higher education is to help stimulate the economy, shouldn’t we be permitted (perhaps, indeed, encouraging) others to reuse our content – and if this generates income to fund such initiatives, should this be a problem?

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