Twitter Stomps Out Micropayments

A bunch of us have been using Flattr recently. It’s a goofy but sweet European company that allows you to set a budget for micropayments that get delivered through social media services: Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Github, You favorite a thing? Part of your monthly budget goes to that favorite.

This was going semi-well. One problem was that Flattr isn’t that widespread yet, though it had to start somewhere. So payments tended to be a bit circular. I made about 7 Euros in the last month, and I spent about 15 Euros. A lot of this, it looks like, was just money sort of equally changing hands.

But, in the spirit of paying for content, it was a nice transitional step. So much of our day-to-day Internet is just people giving things away for free so that we can be constantly engaged advertising data for corporations. Now Twitter has decided that Flattr violates terms of service.

Flattr was getting a commission, and so they dropped that. But that didn’t satisfy. What did Twitter say?

“Our API Terms of Service state that you cannot sell or receive compensation for Tweet actions or the placement of Tweet actions on your Service. This includes compensation attached to a Tweet Action sent to either a service or through a service to another user.”

I would not call that excellently rendered English.

They clarified, to explain how micropayments could still work:

“If your service compensates content creators … in a manner that is not attached to Tweet Actions, this would be in compliance with our API Terms of Service.”

“To favorite somebody,” Flattr explained, “is considered a Tweet Action.”

So you’d have to have an interface with Twitter… that was unrelated to Twitter… to make a micropayment. That just doesn’t work.

There is, according to Twitter, no way to engage the idea of payment into any kind of Twitter interaction. Besides, of course, Twitter users viewing advertising, and being data for advertisers. Their motivation is understandable, and I can see the ways that monetizing “tweet actions” could be used for ill purposes. This wasn’t an ill purpose, and it’s too bad. It’s a step backward for a more just Internet.