Mike Isaac

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The Fine Print on Twitter’s Latest Developer Dustup With IFTTT

Despite being constantly connected to a smartphone, there are things that happen on the Web when I’m not paying attention. (Shocking, I know.) IFTTT — short for “If This Then That” — has been one of my favorite services to keep tabs on people and companies when I’m not paying rapt attention to Twitter and Facebook.

It works with a number of existing Web services like Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds and the like. Say someone important like Twitter CEO Dick Costolo decides to tweet something. As a Twitter beat reporter, I want to know what Dick has to say when he says it. Using IFTTT, I can have the service send me an email, an SMS, even a phone call. It’s very useful, especially when, you know, I want to try and get some sleep.

Sadly, in an email today to its users, IFTTT announced that it was ending support for Twitter triggers, one of what I’d call the most useful parts of the service. When I saw the email in my inbox, I was instantly bummed. The way the email was worded, too, made it seem like IFTTT was the latest in a string of companies affected by Twitter’s recent overhaul of its developer guidelines (currently a hotbed of contention in the tech community that relies upon Twitter’s platform to power their services).

“In recent weeks, Twitter has announced policy changes* that will affect how applications and users like yourself can interact with Twitter’s data. As a result of these changes, on September 27th we will be removing all Twitter Triggers, disabling your ability to push tweets to places like email, Evernote and Facebook.”

In light of recent events and this charged language, a knee-jerk reaction of blaming Twitter was almost to be expected (and, indeed, blame was immediately placed on Twitter). The company recently axed its connection with LinkedIn, and as a product VP outlined in a detailed explanation of its new guidelines, the company won’t be as tolerant of developers who don’t follow the rules of Twitter’s road as it has been in the past.

This time, however, the devil seems to be in the details.

In a footnote to its statement on the change, IFTTT specifically cites a change in section 4A of Twitter’s developer guidelines as the reason for dropping Twitter support. It’s sort of nerdy tech jargon, but it essentially states that outside companies can’t export Twitter content to an outside cloud-based service like, say, IFTTT.

The problem is, that’s not a new rule for Twitter. In fact, according to the archive of Twitter’s developer rules of the road, this has been the case since at least April of 2011, if not longer (that’s as far back as the archive displays “recent changes”). So, essentially, IFTTT is pointing the finger at supposed changes in the Twitter ecosystem that really occurred more than a year ago.

Granted, Twitter did little to enforce many of the guidelines for quite some time. Only in the past few months has Twitter shown more willingness to bring the hammer down on those it sees breaking the rules.

So perhaps IFTTT saw the writing on the wall and decided to drop Twitter support while placing a carefully-worded jab at Twitter’s new hard-line stance on API guidelines. Or perhaps Twitter told IFTTT that it would soon cut them off, and IFTTT beat Twitter to the punch while ultimately making them look bad.

I don’t know either way, as neither company is replying to my emails.

All I know is, it’s an unfortunate loss. IFTTT’s Twitter triggers were invaluable for me, as I don’t spend my every waking minute staring at my Twitter stream.

Fortunately, there’s at least some light at the end of the tunnel. IFTTT says it is “excited to build features that work within Twitter’s new policy,” so perhaps we won’t be long without the feature set. Perhaps the current kerfuffle occurring in the blogosphere is all a tempest in a teapot.

Whatever the case, I expect more of these mini-freak-outs to come as Twitter continues to enforce its rules of the road. Just be sure to read the fine print first.

Update: As it turns out, Drew Olanoff over at TechCrunch noticed the same thing. Guess I’m not crazy.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work