Keeping Track (of What’s Yours?) in Web 2.0: Twitter

July 28, 2009

Last week, there were some major revelations about who owns what in the 2.0 world.  We decided to summarize what we learned in order to help you keep track of your digital footprint.


What they own:  All of your tweets – public or protected

What you own:  The ability to protect your tweets from everyone but Twitter (unless Twitter decides to give your updates away)

The good news?  1) Twitter limits access to Hosebird.  2) Whatever is in Twitter’s future, it includes a new Terms of Service and API license.

Explanation:  Last week, the interwebs were aflutter when TechCrunch received Twitter’s confidential business documents (7/14/2009) and decided to publish the gist of them for the world (7/16/2009).  The published documents include product pitches, company goals, grammatical errors, and notes from talks with Microsoft and Google.

The scariest part of the leak – other than the leak itself! (back to that in a minute) – was the power Twitter wields with its Streaming API (codename “Hosebird”).  Before these documents leaked, the public may have known about the attempted Twitter courtships by Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.  However, the technical aspect of what Twitter offers to search engines was, most likely, a vague concept (“real-time search”) to everyone but programmers.

The documents do a good job of highlighting Twitter’s trump card in the race for “real-time search,” something Twitter calls the “Fire Hose.”  The firehose is an all-access pass to public tweets, as they happen.  Companies with access to the firehose – currently limited by Twitter – are directly plugged into Twitter’s Hosebird servers which is how they gain access in real time.  Without an all-access pass, even a search engine as powerful as Google cannot index every Tweet in real-time.  In other words, Twitter has an edge on the real-time data available at its disposal.  Search engines – and, by proxy, marketers and analysts – are vying for this edge and are willing to pay a pretty penny for it.  (For a good read on this issue, take a look at this article explaining real-time search and how Twitter’s native search function falls short.)

And, what about all of this data that Twitter has at its disposal on its Hosebird servers?  While the big boys of tech may be salivating at the possibility of putting all this data to use – tracking Tweets can yield socially useful information¹ – sharing this data raises privacy and security concerns.

Although the latest security snafu did not affect Twitter accounts, Twitter’s track record for security is less than stellar.  Last year, Twitter accidentally released protected updates via its API.  Earlier this year, worms infected 750 Twitter accounts via security vulnerabilities.  Luckily, Twitter’s documents seem to suggest that the company recognizes that access to this data must be partnered with enhanced security protocols and privacy protocols.  (On that note, let’s also be thankful that Twitter is hiring a security expert!)

Lessons we’ve learned:  Anything you publish on the web – your Twitter stream or your confidential business documents – can be quickly parsed, charted, and fed back to you.

¹Global searches of all our 140 character missives could help track political unrest (e.g., Iran, Moldova); voter problems (“OMG – out of ballots”); or epidemiology (“feeling sik/cnt meet 4 drnks” all over NYC could suggest flu).

What’s Yours in Web 2.0 is a new column on nonpretentious inspired by nonpretentious contributor _adam. This article was co-written by _adam and revisingproust.

If you have any ideas for future columns for WYW2, please send an e-mail to _adam or

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One Response to “ Keeping Track (of What’s Yours?) in Web 2.0: Twitter ”

  1. Peter on August 2, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Thank you! You often write very interesting articles. You improved my mood.

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