Twitter comes clean

Twitter developer manager Alex Payne has updated the Twitter FAQ with the actual, real, honest story on the return of Track to its users. First, the relevant text:

When will the firehose be ready?

By late January, early February 2009. For at least Q1 2009, the “firehose” (the near-realtime stream of all public status updates on Twitter) will only be available to a small group of trusted partners. The firehose is a stream HTTP solution; a client connects to it and the stream begins, ceasing only when the client disconnects. Once we’re confident in the stability of the service, we’ll add partners on a case-by-case basis. We may allow a wider selection of clients to consume subsets of the public stream (that is, updates from a collection of user IDs or matching specific search terms). We do not intend to allow anonymous, unregulated public access to this stream for any number of legal, financial, and technical reasons.

Now, the translation:

Real soon now, especially now that FriendFeed has a quarter of our page views with a stunningly familar hockeystick of growth, we will release the firehose to trusted partners. Trusted means those vendors who will agree not to allow access to… see below. The firehose is the full stream of our data that has been blocked from its contributors since May, 2008. Once we’re sure it is stable, we’ll continue to make it available while adding what must be semi-trusted cases. It’s also possible we’ll deliver a subset of the firehose (analogous to somewhat pregnant) defined as Track on identities and keywords. The keyword here is “may”. Finally, we won’t allow anonymous unregulated access, period. That is, even though we have numerous partners and untrusted startups currently recording Twitter notices and storing them for unregulated anonymous access since Twitter began.

FriendFeed co-founder Bret Taylor appeared on NewsGang Live Friday, and told me relationships with Twitter continue to be good. The two companies are working through some problems with the rate limiting curbs introduced by Twitter several weeks ago, but Taylor anticipates a resolution shortly. Several third party Track projects, most notably including Dustin Sallings’ TwitterSpy, have been disabled due to the 20,000 API call limit imposed. Sallings is blunt in this FriendFeed thread:

They’re going to offer a friendfeed-style HTTP firehose to a limited group. My suspicion is that that group will be limited more by how threatening a business is than even by how much twitter’s traffic may be reduced by such a partnership. I might be wrong, but the only ideas they seem to have for making money from their business involve removing value their customers want.

Meanwhile, Taylor says FriendFeed is moving forward with enhanced realtime tools to help model Twitter and other data. Rooms will gain new controls for aggregating multiple streams, a major search-related announcement is coming later this week, broader filtering and track functionality awaits a several-month rewrite of some parts of the core architecture, and most importantly, FriendFeed will continue to employ an open, inward and outward-facing data strategy. This is in sharp contrast to both Twitter and Facebook, who allow ingress but limit outbound flow.

There are several efforts underway to work around or via the back channel with Twitter to reengage track services. Services such as Twhirl that have released betas with “track” support may fall into both categories, but eventually Twitter will find a happy medium where monetization will begin to flow. In the meantime, FriendFeed continues to offer a more conversational and flexible model, making it a significant competitor for user contributions. Even now, it’s trivial to maintain a Twitter presence via FriendFeed that would require a fundamental change in developer relations to undermine.

Now that Twitter has achieved a certain stability and clarity in its rate-limiting strategy, the next phase will focus on identifying and rationalizing its trusted partners. The fundamental value proposition of track – the filtering of micromessages based on a combination of identity and conversational context – can now be achieved in FriendFeed with greater fidelity and, soon, realtime alert mechanisms that allow more personalized and affinity-powered flow regulation. The result: time-efficient information at the center of the user experience.

Over time, Twitter’s huge audience size and mainstream media acceptance will become less significant, forcing Twitter to name its price for its unique value even as it is watered down by more flexible tools and micro-community adoption of its competitors. Regardless of the anger in the community, which clearly has been discounted as a small minority in Twitter’s game plan, the clarity of Twitter’s rate limiting and brute force approach in managing its developer community now stand in sharp contrast to FriendFeed’s approach.