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Twitter Bots Aren’t Just for Spammers Anymore

The @TwitterSuggests account has been around for a few months, tweeting nearly 200k recommendations of “interesting” users to follow so far. And yes, it has received some press from famous misfires recommending everything from dormant accounts to some very NSFW accounts. A quick sampling of today’s timeline from @TwitterSuggests still shows accounts without a tweet since 2009, accounts with only a couple of tweets and tweeters with quite a bit of adult content being “officially” recommended. It makes one wonder where these suggestions come from because they obviously aren’t screened by actual humans.

The account has generated some interesting discussion on the Twitter development list as well. One recent thread questioned why Twitter gets to skirt it’s own terms of service which forbids “automatically sending @reply messages or Mentions to a bunch of users” without their express permission beforehand.

Although the bot is not listed on their blog as an official Twitter account, it does have a page under their support site. It plainly states there is no way to opt-in for the suggestions. The proscribed method for opting out? Block the account. If an automated bot sends unsolicited tweets to unsuspecting users with often dubious recommendations, what else can it be but a spam bot?

Twitter’s response to the development community was made by Arnaud Meunier, who works for the Twitter Platform Product team:

These rules apply to third party apps. @twittersuggests is not a third
party app, but an experimental feature, developed and owned by
Twitter.

Now I can also understand this “Do as I Say, not as I Do” situation
can be irritating. But I guess the best thing to do at this point is
probably to share your thoughts on the experiment through his
dedicated feedback form:

The response received many unhappy replies from developers on the list, best summed up by Dewald Pretorius:

Know what I totally cannot understand? Why is it that Twitter, through
various spokespersons, continually reinforces the impression that they
pay scant lip service to the alleged notion that they value the third
party developer ecosystem?

Does Twitter like pointing a loaded gun at its own foot and pulling
the trigger, again and again?

Yes, it is Twitter’s playground. They can make any rules they like and they can easily kick all of the unruly kids off of the jungle gym. However, we all learned (hopefully) in kindergarten this sort of behavior is not any way to play nice with others, or as my mom would say, “win friends and influence people.”

Now this may seem like nit-picking by the development community, but there are hundreds of businesses whose sole product is based on access to the Twitter API. Many with millions of dollars invested in creating products to earn their own bread and butter all the while helping Twitter earn it’s revenue. A simple flick of a switch can turn off these third party’s access to Twitter’s API and basically cancel their whole revenue stream. We saw this earlier this year when Twitter suspended Ubermedia’s popular Twidroyd and UberTwitter apps for several days. Hundreds of thousands of users found their favorite apps unable to connect to their accounts. Interestingly many popular and widely followed users ultimately blamed Twitter itself for the suspensions.

Yes, every playground needs rules and rules need enforcement sometimes. The question is… How long can Twitter keep sending mixed messages to it’s development community before it loses them?

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