Owning Your Tweets, Part 4: Own 'Em if You Can Find 'EmBy http://profile.typepad.com/1237764140s22740 // September 27, 2010 in Twitter, User Generated Content
A post that's getting a lot of circulation is Zach Holman's, "Hey Twitter: Give us our Tweets."
Holman's post speaks to his disappointment of not being able to access and search an archive of his own tweets -- at least not as part and parcel of Twitter's own service offering.
As comments on Hacker News point out, there are third party apps and services that permit one to archive one's tweets. (I happen to use BackupMyTweets.) But Holman seems to be critiquing Twitter's choice to not to bundle such a service inside Twitter's first party offering.
This yearning raises for me, in yet another way, how unique the "ownership" issues are around tweets and other user generated content.
Part of what we're rubbing up against here is the intuitive feeling that something one "owns" should be, to use a legal term, "alienable." We normally associate the experience of "ownership" with the right to transfer, to sell, to port the item in which one has a property right.
Twitter's terms of service acknowledge that you own your Tweets. Twitter uses your content under license, ostensibly. But Twitter also happens to be hosting and monetizing the platform on which you are composing, saving and publishing your tweets.
If we analogized Twitter to longer-form blogging platforms, we would probably regarded Twitter's lack of a user-accessible archive function as a flaw in the potential commercial viability of the business. Users of Typepad, say, fully expect there will be a feature within the service to facilitate the export of your blog posts.
What's a bit odd is that, even though you, the Twitter user, are the owner and licensor of your tweets, and even though Twitter is the licensee, Twitter has the inordinate bargaining power. My guess is, were the average user to try to negotiate custom terms with Twitter, to say, "as a condition of my willingness to tweet and to grant you a license to publish and monetize my tweets, you will agree to back them up and give me tools to make my tweets searchable and exportable," Twitter would opt to not supply the service to you. (Certain power users may already have negotiated customized terms of service, I don't know; and I can imagine in future certain users might have sufficient leverage to demand and get additional services in consideration of their tweeting.)
Another way Twitter might satiate the "ownership" instinct of users would be to share revenue with users. Some proxy could be figured out, whereby the user responsible for content Twitter is able to monetize could be paid a cut of the associated revenue.
When Twitter appears to behave as though it can turn the flow of your tweets on and off at will, it feels as if Twitter owns them, even though, strictly speaking, Twitter does not claim ownership, and, as far as I can tell, is only exploiting your tweets within the scope of the license you have granted Twitter.
Couple related points I'll hope to come back to you on soon:
- Does Twitter continue to use and mine tweets to which you, the user, may not have ready access through any first-party Twitter interface (the Twitter website or a Twitter mobile app)?
- What happens to your tweets at Twitter, what happens to Twitter's license, when you quit Twitter?