The TweetAdder lawsuit points out several serious questions investors should consider carefully.
NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- My name is Jonathan. And I am an accidental Twitter spammer.
My business used to be a simple one. I invested real money and time figuring out how to use emerging digital tools to create the best possible stories at the best possible prices. Web collaboration, online task management, virtual accounting -- that's the sort of wonky digital hunting and gathering my shop bets its future on.
My biz, like most, struggles with scraping profits out of Twitter, Facebook and the rest of social media. So I invested in a bright young social media collaborator, Anthony Mowl, to study and report on what works and doesn't with social media tools for business.
All made sense, until last week. That's when TweetAdder, one of the most interesting social media tools we have written about -- and used -- was named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Twitter against companies it considered to be spammers.
According to the suit, filed in the Northern District of California, TweetAdder is "designed to create the impression" its services are permissible on Twitter, when they are not.
Well, I am one of those impressionable souls. Thanks in part to TweetAdder, our Twitter feed, @blumsday, has more than 2,900 some-odd followers who message, retweet and react to my content -- including stories from TheStreet.
Now obviously, I've turned TweetAdder off. A lawsuit is a lawsuit. But it was no easy call. See, Anthony and I maintain we haven't spammed anybody.
In fact, this past week of trying to match the business and ethical realities of Twitter has pointed out several serious questions about this business that investors should carefully consider:
1. Plan on no due process on Twitter ... or the Web.
Twitter is private property. It defines what users can and can't do in its terms of service: No hate speech, no porn, no automated tools. And once the lawsuit was out, I saw the company's concern immediately: TweetAdder and other defendants in the spam suit have the means to send out, without exaggeration, tens of millions of Tweets flogging Viagra or tickets to the Nigerian national lottery.
And let's be honest, TweetAdder plays cat and mouse with Twitter. You'll see it when you visit the company's blog, where it describes updates made to work around Twitter changes.
But we don't sell Viagra. We use TweetAdder as a powerful social media search tool. Its easy-to-use interface and professional layout allowed us to collect very accurate lists of Twitter users who might be interested in our content. It then streamlined how we follow them, with the hope they follow us back. TweetAdder's approach is a major upgrade over Twitter's disgraceful search functions.
But somehow logic and the terms of service don't match.
2. Be ready to anticipate Twitter's contradictory policies.
The startling part is that it never occurred to us we doing anything unethical here. Why? Because how TweetAdder uses Twitter is how I, you and even the president of the United States use Twitter. You follow someone; they follow you back if they want to. What Twitter apparently forbids is the automation of following others.
But clearly TweetAdder is not the only Twitter user using sophisticated approaches. Take Mr. Obama -- @barackobama has 14 million followers, but the account also follows about 680,000 people. Does anyone really believe Barack, Michelle and the girls tweet away from the Lincoln bedroom with three-quarters of a million people? Obviously, an entire team is managing this account with the help of automated tools.
Yet TweetAdder is a spammer and Barack Obama is not? Again, where's the logic?
3. Expect bewilderment in Twitter's approach to managing its network.
Twitter placed very forceful language in its suit that it has "used a host of human and technological measures to combat spam." I'm sure that's true. But it seems to me that its efforts to manage inappropriate behavior on its network do not match those of other social media giants. Facebook, for example, limits personal accounts to 5,000 friends. Get any bigger and users must have a business account that only has "Likes," not "Friends." And there is no way send a message to a "Like." LinkedIn(:LNKD) also limits unsolicited mail strictly by rationing and selling so-called InMail. But on Twitter, there's no distinction between personal or business accounts. And followings stretch into the millions.
Plus, I find there is a terrible opacity about Twitter. Not only have they not responded to queries about this piece, but never once, in all my years of using and reporting on this company, has a Twitter executive ever answered a question I've asked, or granted an interview.
How the perception of the spam problem is managed in this fast-moving company frankly bewilders me. And plan on it bewildering you.
For sure, I'm not using TweetAdder until the suit is settled. That's Twitter's business. But to me, suing TweetAdder for spam is like suing Gmail for spam. And my read is TweetAdder feels that, too. Websites for several of the other named defendants are now offline, but TweetAdder's is not. In fact, it announced an upgrade late last week.
TweetAdder might just be the little idea that forces big changes at Twitter.
Anthony Mowl and Blumsday LLC contributed to this story.