Is Twitter open source-washing its image?

Giving back to Linux, but timing could be better

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Twitter seems to have a somewhat cynical approach on how to treat developers these days. The news that Twitter is joining the Linux Foundation comes just days after the microblogging company angered many in its development community with tighter restrictions on its APIs.

The timing for joining the Linux Foundation seems rather suspect--observers have already called Twitter on trying to spin the negative response it received when the company announced the changes to version 1.1 of the Twitter API on August 16.

Among the changes that incensed the Twitter community are a prohibition of interspersing Twitter content with other social media content on a single timeline and a cap of 100,000 users for any app that taps into Twitter, after which the app will need to get special permission from Twitter for more users (yeah, good luck with that one).

Now, for the record, as much as I will lament the damage these restrictions will do to apps like Flipboard, I actually understand what Twitter is doing: they are trying to monetize their own service and reduce the level of competition they must deal with. And, let's face it, it's not like Twitter's API is open source… it's proprietary, and what Twitter is doing is perfectly within their rights.

But it's one thing to have the guts to say, "this is what we're doing" versus trying to soften up detractors with an attempt at misdirection.

Chris Aniszcyk, head of Twitter's Open Source Office, denies any such attempt. In a comment on Ars Technica173), Aniszcyk wrote:

As the person who runs Twitter's Open Source Office, this has been in the works for awhile, it just happens to be that LinuxCon is next week (you should go if you can)… We just established an Open Source Office about a year ago with a mission to support a variety of open organizations that are important to us. We’re grateful to the open source community for their contributions, and want to maintain a healthy, reciprocal relationship."

It is a matter of record that Twitter does indeed contribute to open source. Their Bootstrap project, which open sources their contributions to MySQL, has been well received, and the company preceded its love for the Linux Foundation with a sponsorship of the Apache Software Foundation in April.

Still, I have to question the timing of this announcement. Yes, given the creation of the LinuxCon schedule and the length of time negotiations took to join the Linux Foundation, it is unlikely that the Linux Foundation announcement was timed to anything except LinuxCon this week.

But who's to say the timing of the API announcement on August 16 wasn't fortuitously timed to back right up against the LinuxCon event? Not to mention the announcement that Bootstrap 2.1 was made available on August 20, too.

At the end of the day, what we have here is a company trying to make its own way in the world with Linux and a lot of open source technology and it's giving back. And if that giving back is conveniently timed to portray a more positive image of said company, well, who can blame them?

The problem with open source-washing your commercial efforts is that ultimately it makes open source come off as a PR ploy, which it's not. Even if this timing was accidental, the perception is still there, and Twitter is doing itself, and open source in general, a disservice.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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