Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Twitter Firehose Too Intense? Take a Sip From the Gardenhose or Sample the Spritzer

Twitter is well-known for carefully metering out access to its Firehose, or the real-time stream of all its users’ tweets. Last year, Google reportedly paid $15 million for access to the Firehose, Microsoft $10 million, and Yahoo joined later with a cash and revenue-share deal.

But different Twitter developers have different needs for Twitter data, and different abilities to pay. The company has adopted a graded approach to allow developers access to its users’ tweets. Don’t have the big bucks to pay for the Firehose? Sign up for the cleverly named Gardenhose access level, which gets you 10 percent of public statuses for free but requires case-by-case approval by Twitter. Just want to get in and start playing around without waiting to be whitelisted? Try the Spritzer, which is available to any user and provides roughly 1 percent of public statuses.

(According to folks at Twitter, the awesome naming convention is the handiwork of tech lead John Kalucki. Also, the Gardenhose and Spritzer used to have a stronger spray, as it were; developers could previously get as much as 20 percent of tweets for free. But now that Twitter’s up to 95 million tweets per day, that portion was getting too big.)

What does it cost to drink from the Firehose? That depends. Twitter’s pricing plans appear to vary wildly, from the big search companies on down to folks prototyping a brainstorm. Multiple Twitter developers told me they felt Twitter’s pricing seemed to be totally arbitrary, and based on whatever Twitter thought they’d be able to pay.

Twitter business development guy Doug Williams said it’s true that Twitter has no structured way to price access between the 10 percent of the Gardenhose and the 100 percent of the Firehose, though the company is likely to develop more levels of pricing.

“Twitter is focused on creating consumer products and we’re not built to license data,” Williams said, adding, “Twitter has always invested in the ecosystem and startups and we believe that a lot of innovation can happen on top of the data. Pricing and terms definitely vary by where you are from a corporate perspective.”

It’s not only how big you are, but what you do with the data. According to a developer, analytics players are asked to pay the most, because they take Twitter content but don’t contribute it or drive content to Twitter. Those who display and process content in a way that drives traffic pay less, and those who help generate content pay the least. As I understand it, some developers who make Twitter clients don’t pay anything at all for streaming API access.

As of July, Twitter said it had given 15-20 developers/product access to the Firehose; the company declined to disclose the current number.

Twitter is also supposedly going to soon start giving away a free analytics dashboard for brands and other users. It’s not clear how much that will compete with existing premium Twitter analytics products that other companies offer.

Williams described the Gardenhose as something academics might use to do research, but I’ve talked to at least one company that makes a mobile app that displays topical Twitter content and feels the free Gardenhose is good enough for its needs. And it’s the right price.

If developers need something more specific than a random sampling of statuses, they can also access filtered content through the streaming API–for instance, tracking keywords, following user IDs and returning tweets from a specific location. There’s also a three-level partner program there. The base level for filtering by user ID is “default,” followed by the approval-required “shadow” and the paying-partner level “birddog,” said Williams. I prefer the cute stream metaphors.

Image courtesy Minnesota National Guard on Picasa.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik