My thoughts on @towerbridge -gate, and why it bothers me

.. Or, “Why devs should question building cool stuff on unstable platforms.”

Like many of my friends and peers over the last 24 hours, I’ve been a bit perturbed by the whole Tower Bridge Twitter account take over.  Turns out, Twitter *did* email Tom to let him know they were suspending his account, but nothing else (from what I’ve read).

A quick synopsis: Tom Armitage is a very smart guy who has a habit of creating some really interesting and ground breaking cutting edge technology stuff.  I say stuff particularly, as a lot of what he does is so ahead of the curve it doesn’t have a nicely labelled box it fits in.

Making bridges talk was one such project, that I personally found fascinating, at a time where open data is finally gaining some momentum, this was a perfect example of how new digital services and open data can come together to create something unusual, interesting and useful.  It opened the doors to many other projects, and Andy Budd’s post about this whole saga covers this aspect of the situation off nicely.

What is remarkable about all of this is that Twitter chose to suspend this account, and pass it over to Tower Bridge Exhibition with the minimum of notice (an automated email, with no right to contest), no archive of the now old account Tom had run very successfully (4,000+ followers when suspended) for the last few years.

My personal concern and issue with this, is sadly not a new one – what rights do developers have when building services or apps on top of other services or in fact data sources?

I work in developer outreach and engagement, where the majority of my work is about helping companies work with developers, where switched on companies (mostly in technology at the moment) have worked out that by working with developers like Tom, they can bring facets to their products, services and data that they hadn’t have thought of, nor probably ever would have.  I know companies who would have (and do) pay good money to have someone like Tom create something like the old @towerbridge account, and use it as part of the services they can provide.  There are plenty of ways to market “traditionally”, but having something genuinely interesting and useful (not to mention in this case, easily accessible) is a great way to spread the word about your services/products and create genuine intrigue that drive your visitors/revenues/whatever.  Making stuff genuinely useful turns out to be quite saleable, go figure 😉  Companies are cottoning onto this pretty quickly.  Unfortunately not Tower Bridge Exhibition, to their detriment.

The point I’m making is how do we start thinking about terms of service for developers?  Or maybe the question should be, how do we raise awareness with developers that although often encouraged to add to services/products/data there isn’t a huge amount of support for them from those places when services/products/data are removed with little or no notice.   This isn’t the first time this has happened, remember when Transport for London locked app users out of the online travel data feed?  I’m sure there a stack of other examples too, and more to come.

If I were a company or organisation looking to work with developers to create exciting new ways of interacting with or accessing my products/data/services, I’d be thinking pretty keenly about what I can bake into my offering to devs that create sustainability and stability.

I think we’ve probably all worked out that free pizza and beer at hackathons, hackdays, BarCamps, Meetups, Tweetups (I could go on.. ;)) is nice by now, and for community led meetings and mash ups that’s most likely well received and acceptable.  However, businesses looking to capitalise on the incredible ground breaking work of developers and general mash up artists, data nuts and new product / service definers need to act professionally and offer some guarantees and terms of service that will encourage developers – feed their entrepreneurial appetite, not just their tummies.  Help them build businesses with you, not just marvel at the shiny until something new catches the eye (or is needed for your business plan).

Perhaps we can have some sort of basic code of developer ethics that companies and organisations working with devs can voluntarily sign up to, so devs know where they’re taken seriously, and where they’re not.

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About Thayer Prime

Tall. Eats a lot. Talks too much. I tweet over @thayer
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One Response to My thoughts on @towerbridge -gate, and why it bothers me

  1. Unfortunately you have confused a Twitter account with a Twitter screen name. Twitter re-assigned the ‘TowerBridge’ screen name to the account run by representatives of the bridge itself. Tom’s bot account remained active, but with a new screen name: ‘TowerBridge_’. He has since changed it to ‘TwrBrdg_itself’. The account has remained intact, with all its tweets and followers, and nobody that followed the bot account has ended up automatically following the official account, or vice versa.

    While I agree that a code of ethics for services to sign up to in regards to how they treat developers would be great, there ought to also be one that developers sign up to in regards to how they treat services, such as not squatting names that they have no right to (such as… @TowerBridge). While Tom’s bot was and still is a great piece of technology, as far as I know, at no point did he have any right, legal or otherwise, to use that screen name. What happened earlier this month, was inevitable.

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