How Tower Bridge Changed My Relationship With Twitter | June 13, 2011
Like many geeks in the UK, the Tower Bridge Twitter account was one of the first Twitter Mashups I’d seen. It was also the point where I realised that Twitter was more than just a simple communication tool; it was a powerful and scriptable platform.
Talking publicly available data, local developer Tom Armitage created a Twitter Bot which automatically Tweeted whenever the bridge opened and a ship passed through. This was a rare occurrence in the city and something most people have never seen, so the account gave Londoners a new way of experiencing an iconic part of the city. As such over 4,000 people, from local developers to London Cabbies followed the account which had remained active for several years.
One of the things I loved about the account was that it spoke in the first person. By allowing an inanimate object to communicate with the real world, Tom had created an early example of a spime; an object which can be tracked through space and time. This little experiment inspired numerous other developers to experiment with the platform and became part of the Twitter story in the UK. As such I was saddened to find out that Twitter unilaterally decided to shut the account down. A sentiment shared by much of the London developer community.
It would seem that a company called Tower Bridge Exhibitions decided that they wanted the account for themselves so asked Twitter to hand it over. Rather than trying to contact Tom to discuss the claim, it appears that Twitter simply sent him a notification that the account was being pulled. This worries me for a number of reasons.
First and foremost it brings into stark relief the fact that we don’t own our online identities or the content we produce. We have few if any rights, and the companies behind these services can remove our accounts at will. I guess I’ve always felt a certain ownership over the services I use. After all, we’re all part of the reason for their success. So the fact that they can delete accounts at will is rather unsettling. It basically sends the message that you’d better play nicely or we’ll expunge you from history.
Secondly, it seems that social networks have an automatic presumption of guilt. So rather than attempting to contact users to discuss claims, the default response to an alleged copyright infringement is to send out a notification that action is being taken and put the onus on the user to respond quickly and defend themselves. This results in a disturbingly Kafkeresque approach to dispute resolution. A much better way would be to send multiple emails, set a deadline for response, put accounts on hold and then only hand over accounts once every attempt at resolution has been followed.
I’m a huge fan of Twitter and have always had very positive feelings about the company, their staff and the service they provide. However this latest incident has eroded some of my faith in their brand and they have taken one step closer to Facebook and Google in my eyes.
Posted at June 13, 2011 9:22 AM