I was in the front rows last week when Twitter and Gnip co-announced at the defrag conference that Gnip would be selling 50% of all the messages posted to Twitter for $360,000 per year, or 5% of all messages for $60,000 per year. Marshall covered the new fully over on ReadWriteWeb but briefly it’s the first time that a structured arrangement has existed to allow developers to purchase large quantities of Tweets from the stream. It’s important to note that customers will only be allowed to analyze the messages, not display them, and resale of the content itself will remain prohibited.

In commenting on the move and the pricing, Data Junkie Pete Warden said that;

there are companies willing to pay that much, and turning the data stream into a profit center gives Twitter a strong incentive to pump resources into their API and external developers, instead of treating them as nuisances. I am a little sad that we can’t get access to all the data we want for free, but the alternative to commercial access isn’t a socialist utopia of free data, it’s no access at all.

What’s been lost in all of the commentary is the fact that the really big opportunities are to be gained from the entire tweet stream (as opposed to the cut down quantities that Gnip is getting hold of. While it’s true that the deal gives Gnip a short term advantage over other companies without access to the data (and in doing so Twitter has been accused of marginal ethics) there are some questions about Twitter’s intentions for the full feed.

Alcatel Lucent’s Mike Maney weighed in on the issue. Maney is part of the group within ALu that is trying to save telcos by providing them with the tools and platforms to market API leveraging services and applications, given that I was interested to hear his perspective on the deal. Maney’s comment was that:

perhaps, the bigger question everyone should be asking is whether Twitter is blowing a potentially huge revenue opportunity by trying to sip revenue through a straw versus using their API to let revenue pour in firehose-like

This is the question that the Gnip deal raises in my mind. We’ve already seen examples of Twitter allowing developers to create monetizable offerings on top of their platform, only to then be disintermediated (or in some cases acquired to the detriment of the ecosystem) by Twitter. In reaction to Maney’s concerns, it’s not a stretch to imagine this is very much a product development move for twitter. They give Gnip access to the data, make some money of selling a cut down stream in the interim and then, at some point in the future, take the best resultant ideas and recreate them but based on a 100% Tweet stream. It’s a similar approach to that being used with twitter’s “Spritzer” feed, a feed that gives developers a random 2% selection of all tweets. Spritzer is a free service but could also be regarded (by cynics at least) as a small price for twitter to pay for product development.

It’s quite simple – Twitter needs to find ways to monetize and leveraging their develop community to come up with the ideas is a smart (if less than friendly) approach. The tragic thing in all of this is that developers are missing the opportunity to access a firehose that makes Twitter’s look downright puny – more on that to come.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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