Maturing Twitter evolves its terms of service

Ronny Kerr · September 11, 2009 · Short URL:

Twitter likely looking to ad-based revenue, reveals other details through updated terms

twitterTwitter updated four main aspects of its terms of service yesterday—advertising, tweet ownership, API policy, and spam policy—and made the changes public on its blog.

Advertising—In the Terms, we leave the door open for advertising. We'd like to keep our options open as we've said before.

When one person in a relationship says to the other, “I want to keep my options open,” doesn’t that mean that they’ve already got somebody in mind and, perhaps, may already be seeing them? Regardless, this sounds a lot like Twitter is at least starting to seriously explore revenue options via advertising. They are still garnering a high amount of buzz, so it’s probably high time they start demonstrating how they’re going to implement a business model.

Ownership—Twitter is allowed to "use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute" your tweets because that's what we do. However, they are your tweets and they belong to you.

Usually when something belongs to me, you have to ask me to use it. Still, this is pretty standard fare for many Web sites that store user content. Facebook already reads content on profile pages and news feeds to personalize the ads on its site, much in the same way that Google ads are influenced by a user’s search query.

APIs—The apps that have grown around the Twitter platform are flourishing and adding value to the ecosystem. You authorize us to make content available via our APIs. We're also working on guidelines for use of the API.

This is kind of redundant after the previous point. Twitter seems to be really happy with all the various computer programs and mobile applications that take full advantage of the Twitter API, as they provide more outlets for the site’s content. We shouldn’t see this changing anytime soon.

SPAM—Abusive behavior and spam is also outlined in these terms according to the rules we've been operating under for some time.

Though this might seem trivial, Twitter’s effectiveness in defeating spam as the site’s popularity grows will be essential in ensuring that users continue to find the site useful and interesting, and not just a breeding ground for self-promoting spammers. Personally, I’d like Twitter to address the abuse of the trending system, where spammers merely include all the top trending topics in their post to get the highest visibility. It’s in Twitter’s best interest.

Of all these updates, it’s clear that the advertising model will be the most interesting to see implemented. Again, it’s pretty clear that Twitter already has its mind set on introducing some sort of ad-based revenue collector. We’ll just have to wait to see the details on their plan.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.