Open Letter to Twitter: Stop it with that API

Dear Twitter,

How have you been? I wanted to take some time out to write to you, and tell you what a huge fan I’ve been of your site. There are a lot of other pretenders to your throne, but we all know you’re the king of the microblogs.

Which is kind of why I needed to get in touch with you. There comes a time in everyone’s life when they need a bit of tough love, and this is, unfortunately, one of those times.

For a while now, I’ve been seeing a number of posts in my Twitter river that look like this:

Twitter API

It’s that “from API” bit that I need to talk to you about. Now, I know you created the Twitter API with the best of intentions. It’s actually quite brilliant of you to have done this for developers, so Twitter can interact with other websites and applications.

But some serious jerks have gotten a hold of it, and the result is posts like the one above. A lot of posts like the one above. People who signed up for affiliate marketing programs, like, five minutes ago are now blasting you with hundreds of messages about “getting 1000s of Twitter followers now!” or “Get 1000s of backlinks now!” These people are spamming you about as hard as they can, all day and all night. They don’t take part in any conversations, and they don’t offer any benefit. They simply let some website somewhere else have access to their accounts.

I know part of the issue is deciding just what is a pernicious use of an auto-posting program. After all, you can’t read all of them – no one can. Actually, no one does, which really makes me wonder why all these jokers bother in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there.

I think I have a solution, and I am really hoping that you will either go with these, or think up some better ones to keep these horrible, horrible people from further ruining you.

  1. Site Banning I know this sounds drastic, but certainly if enough people report sites that are constantly the ammunition of so many spam offensives, you can create a list of sites for which links cannot be sent to. I don’t believe it would take a great deal of coding to examine a link before it gets posted, see if it ends up at one of these banned sites, then refuse to complete the post. Of course, it would mean you would have to follow and verify links, which would take more time to get something posted, so maybe that’s not the way to go. Here’s another:
  2. API Posting Limitations So you can’t examine every post before it goes live. However, you can monitor profiles to see how many of these posts are created by something other than a user. Lets say someone isn’t auto-posting because they’re members of the anti-Christ’s affiliate program, but is simply cross-posting from their Friendfeed account. If you had an established limit of, say, five auto-posts per day, that would make these blasts of uselessness ineffective. Or maybe you could make a rule that every fifth post can be from an outside source, but the rest have to be from a trusted one.  (Brightkite, Twidroid, Tweetdeck, or anything else that doesn’t automatically post from a feed.) I know, there’s another problem here – anyone could write their own evil program that you don’t know about to slam you with crap. (Though you have to admit, it would certainly cut down on it.) So if that isn’t any good either, here’s my last suggestion:
  3. Ban Users Now here’s where the gloves come off! If someone reports a user for Tweeting nothing but garbage and links to get them money for their affiliate programs, you cut them loose. Digg has no problem with that, and look how well they’re doing! Sure, you’ll have a lot of people coming right back to do it again, but they’ll just get reported too. Maybe you can create an investigation spider that, when someone is reported, can crawl their account to verify that they keep linking to the same spammy landing page over and over and over, in which case BLAM! (Or POOF! if you prefer. I like thinking of these people’s cretinous heads being removed by a shotgun, but then I’m really not good with anger.)

I’m sure there are other ways this could be dealt with. Hey, remember a few months ago when you limited people’s following number to 2000? I was all for that – after you made allowances for people who themselves have more than 2000 people following back, of course. But you see how well that turned out? You made a rule to better the community, you made an exception for the part you didn’t think of at first, and now most everyone is happy – except for the aforementioned jerks who spam.

Well, those jerks have found a new way to ruin the fun for all of us, and unless something’s done about it, it’s going to kill the whole thing. So I implore you – fix it so auto-postings are limited, or prevent the known spam from being usable in a post. You aren’t benefiting any from this kind of traffic, and neither are we users.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep an eye out for any posts with the “from API” bit at the end, and unfollow whomever is responsible if it is for yet another advertisement for something I don’t want or need.

Take care, and say hi to the wife and kids for me,

Ciaoenrico

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