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Twitter Should Shut Me Down (mkrecny.com)
541 points by mkrecny on Apr 25, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 206 comments

This business model isn't analogous to "promoted tweets" or "Twitter ads". It's analogous to "email spam".

You're a spammer essentially. Using an automated bot to fake a human interaction (favorite) in order to get my attention and get me to follow you. It doesn't matter that it's more effective than "Twitter Ads". Twitter Ads are marked as Ads, your favorites are not. I really do hope Twitter shuts you down, as well as those follow bots that follow me 10 times a day and unfollow me the next day.

Sadly, Twitter doesn't do much to combat spam so they likely will not. But don't fool yourself into thinking you are going to partner or be acquired by Twitter.

Meh. Doesn't seem any more offensive than a targeted ad on Amazon. It's just a favorite, after all. A subtle, "Hey, check us out." These are company/marketing/publicity accounts anyway (I'm assuming). It's not like followgen is masquerading around with a stolen identity like most follow bots, spitting out bit.ly spam with suggestive tweets and racy pictures. It's simply programmatically allowing twitter accounts to reach out to people who happen to fall into a statistical category. It's also important to remember that follow bots make it easy to follow-back via the "follow" link in notification emails. On an iPhone, to follow the account of someone who favorites my tweet I would 1) see the notification, 2) open the app, 3) select the interaction 4) select the user 5) follow the user (I count 3 interactions using the web app, already having the page loaded). If it truly is spam I can just ignore the notification, as opposed to having to block and report a follow bot.

Rather ingenious, if I do say so myself. The favorite interaction has become increasingly important over the past year or so... I know friends (non-technical friends) who joined twitter recently who would rather get a favorite than a retweet, as a favorite feels more personal. This opposed to a retweet, which seem to be given out much more frequently than a year ago. It would also be pretty cool to be favorited by a recognizable name. Now that I think about it... could be a pretty useful recruiting tool, if targeted properly.

It's an abuse of a messaging channel that degrades it for everyone to benefit a small number of parties. Similar to spam or telemarketing or chain mail. (Or, say, pollution. There's a mismatch between who the benefits accrue to, and who pays for it.)

It's also leveraging the fact that twitter (for now) emails the original user to tell them their tweet was favorited. So it's essentially spamming by proxy.

(Also, we've seen this before. It's just follower spam.)

Or ads on GMail? Seems like with that definition you can define any sort of advertisement on a communication medium "spam".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spam_(electronic) Note: "indiscriminately"

I wasn't aware of the emails, I haven't received one and I've been favorited before.

No, not "or ads on Gmail". Gmail doesn't create ads that pretend to be email messages.

The whole point here is that it's a mis-use of a messaging channel - they are leveraging the fact that users _don't_ expect favoriting to be a form of advertising, they expect it to be a message from an actual human being that has favorited their post because they like it. (Similar to the problems with follower spam.)

(I'd also point out that ads on web sites at least help subsidize user's free usage of those web sites, so there is an indirect benefit to the user that isn't there in the case of spam.)

You may have your Twitter notices already turned off - I get emails from them when someone favorites or replies to my tweets, as well as notifications from their app.

Two small points. First, you can't define anything as anything, stick with your gut on that one. If you could, the word define could have no definition, and the entire concept of definitions would be invalid. Someone getting sloppy with their definitions doesn't change the generally agreed upon meaning of concepts. I can call a rock a bird, but that doesn't actually make it so. There's a pretty reasonable definition of spam at this point.

Second, the advertising on Gmail (or Yahoo mail etc) isn't an indirect benefit, it's an exceptionally direct benefit. I've gotten to use a truly great, fast, reliable email service - Gmail - for a decade, with gigabytes of storage, and all they've done is run ads on the right side that I've never once clicked on and they never get in my way. Talk about a helluva deal. You're completely correct in the fact that Gmail ads are nothing like spam.

I misspoke. The slop was in the interpretation of the definition, not the definition itself.

Personally, I mostly use favouriting tweets for my own personal needs only - to bookmark some things. My behaviour would be unchanged if favouriting became private and no one was notified that I favourited their tweet.

Sometimes, if I really like a tweet, I'll favourite it because I have no other way to say +1 (other than replying to it). But I must like it enough to want to sacrifice the integrity of my bookmarks.

Based on what I'm reading here, it seems that people have wildly varying ways in which they use favouriting.

Agreed. I wish Twitter would change "favorite" to "like" or "star" so that people could essentially +1 other tweets with out the severity that "favorite" implies.

No, this is nothing like a targeted ad. One part of the service "favorites" tweets that you may never have seen or read. It would be more like Facebook selling a service that likes popular user's posts. It's like Amazon writing a useful review for a product you never bought.

Twitter would look horrible by partnering with an automated service of any sort.

This is definitely the farthest thing from "rather ingenious".

There are countless bots out there already abusing this idea with followers, and pushing it into favourites isn't making it any better. All it does is add pointless noise to the twitter network and unethically take advantage of the fact that they can't catch all of the spammers at once.

Of course you can make money when you violate the rules, but that doesn't mean doing things like that are an ingenious or stable business model.


OP here.

Ultimately I want access to the Twitter Ads API, at which point I'll switch from favorites to serving promoted tweets/accounts. I think I've innovated on the Ads UX and the form which the impression takes is secondary. This is a surrogate impression. It has allowed me to build an Ads product and an Ads customer base in anticipation of Ads API access.

I think I've innovated on the Ads UX

What you've done is move ads from the place where they're supposed to be (promoted tweets) to the place where they're not supposed to be (your interactions). Innovative spam is still spam.

I agree - It degrades the experience of the product (in this case, Twitter) for the users.

There are versions of this approach all over Instagram too - I 'll wake up to a large number of favorites, only to find out that most of them were bots. (Although, with the OP's approach, the accounts that are favoriting this are real accounts, so I wouldn't be able to tell easily by going to their profile)

If I get a favorites notification, I want to go go their profile and find out if they share similar tastes. If it's just an automated system, they have ruined this for me by lowering the signal-to-noise ratio.

Regardless of how innovative this is, Twitter shouldn't get any flak if they decide to shut him down.

I'll play devil's advocate to this one... you're saying "interactions" are places where ads aren't supposed to be? Isn't any interaction between a business and individuals on Twitter really marketing?

Arguably, but there are social bounds to what's considered acceptable, as well as bounds enforced by Twitter to prevent abuse of the medium. Any phone conversation B2C is similar, but in general, we don't like businesses calling us on a false pretext just to get our attention. It's like those annoying snail mail envelopes designed to look like a federal government notice so you'll open them.

Even if all business->individual interactions are marketing, that doesn't mean that all marketing is spam. Marketing and customer engagement is fine. Spam isn't.

The distinction for me isn't between marketing/non-marketing but between humans and robots. If a human representing some business favorites my tweet because they feel that it's worth favoriting, that's great. In fact, it makes me feel good that some human at an organization is reading and caring about what I have to say. Wonderful, I write things so people can read them.

Robots just going out and marking things as favorites just to get attention and followers? That's the kind of spam actively undermines the value of the example above.

That's a non-sequitur: marketing and advertising are not the same thing.

Can you provide a definition of either that excludes the other?

Easy. Advertising is a subset of marketing. Marketing also includes product design, customer service, research, etc.

I respect you because you admit that you're probably violating Twitter's TOS and you even posted to HN about it so you're not trying to be sneaky like click-fraud schemes. If Twitter doesn't shut you down after this, you deserve every penny you make. Just make sure you save that money, don't go buying a bunch of stuff you don't need.

Your customer base? You mean the people who "favorite" stuff they may not have read, in hopes of manipulating people into thinking they care? The people who want more followers at any cost?

Yes, your customer list may be useful to Twitter - as a list of accounts to suspend for violating their ToS, devaluing favorites, and hurting any legitimacy Twitter had.

You're missing the point.

You shouldn't have existed (or been allowed to) in the fist place.

did you read the article? or even the title for that matter? seems like what you are saying is crystal clear to OP.

yes, but the OP thinks he should have been barred on the grounds of cannibalising twitter's ad revenue, not on the grounds of spamming people's favourite notifications.

Yes, as a matter of fact I read it in it's entirety. Did you read the article?

You're talking to the guy that wiped the user table of a production database for an online game he was working on: http://edu.mkrecny.com/thoughts/how-i-fired-myself.

The meat of the story starts with this sentence:

> One of the peculiarities of my development environment was that I ran all my code against the production database....

What's your point? That he worked at a company whose standard practice was to have developers run code in development against the production database? Without backups.

Of course something is going to go wrong. IIRC this was already discussed on HN.

> That he worked at a company whose standard practice was to have developers run code in development against the production database?

His point is probably that professionals don't do that. It's not the companies fault he was working directly on the production database.

I disagree. These are people who are following accounts because the accounts favorite a tweet of theirs.

If you follow someone without looking into their profile and deciding if you are interested in their content then you get what you deserve.

Ah, the "if the victim is that dumb, they deserve it" school of thought.

Note that you can substitute all sorts of adjectives for "dumb".

E.g., "those nerds are so unpopular they deserve to get beaten up". Or, "those people are poor enough that they deserve to live next to a toxic waste dump".

Basically, it's a way of taking whatever characteristic you pride yourself on and then making yourself feel even better about it by enjoying when shitty things happen to other people.

Ah, the "if the victim is that dumb, they deserve it" school of thought.

No, the "take responsibility for the outcome of your own actions" school of thought. Or do you think one should be able to wander through life, doing and saying anything one pleases, completely oblivious to your environment, and not expect bad things to happen sometimes?

If the only thing you could imagine someone meaning is something obviously idiotic, you probably aren't imagining hard enough.

I could imagine a lot of things. I'm just trying to point out that you can't just absolve individuals from being responsible for the outcomes of their decisions. And that's not the same thing as saying "The victim was dumb, they got what they had coming to them".

Bad judgement on one individual doesn't justify bad actions of another individual.

A woman might choose to wear clothes that make her look sexy. But that doesn't justify a guy raping her.

I agree that people act dumb. But that doesn't justify predatory behaviour.

A woman might choose to wear clothes that make her look sexy. But that doesn't justify a guy raping her.

Nobody said it did, and that example is nothing like what we're talking about here.

People do need to learn that their actions can have negative outcomes as well as positive.

This is also not something that is just happening to these people. They are taking an active part by deciding to follow someone.

I certainly don't belong to the school of thought that says you should never experience a negative outcome.

It takes a special kind of leap to go from "Socially engineered into doing something" to "deserves physical violence because of unpopularity" or "financially unable to get out of an unhealthy situation so isn't deserving of a better situation".

The key difference being that in the prior example the negative impact is you follow someone that may not be of interest to you, in which case you can always un-follow. While a nerd or the poor will find they can't literally click a button to undo the "damage" that was done.

I get what you are trying to say, I disagree that you can apply that to this specific example. It would be better aimed at a rich person who literally thinks everyone on food stamps is a lazy bum.

Just as if you click a link in an email without understanding who it's really from, you get what you deserve.

So, spam works. It still doesn't make it morally right to trick people into following you.

So by your logic, you have no problem with email spammers because the people who fall for their spam get what they deserve?

There's a big difference between being notified that someone favorited a tweet and an email spammer that is attempting to replicate an official email or is lying about a situation.

Favoriting a tweet has no connection with "Hey, I tweet about stuff that you are interested in so you should follow me." It's not even a request for someone to follow you.

Is there a difference between a bot favoriting your tweet, and spam that claims to saw your facebook profile, and wanting to sell you something? Both are lies, and intended to get your attention.

Not quite. Following people is always opt-in.

So is clicking on an email link.

which are decidedly different things. By definition, the bigger problem with spam is receiving it, not clicking on it.

"because the accounts favorite a tweet of theirs."

I think this is incorrect. The intended purpose of "Favorites" is to communicate that a living, breathing person (as opposed to an "account," as you describe) saw my tweet, enjoyed it, and liked it enough to Favorite it.

The OP's product fraudulently claims to Twitter users that the customers of this product are engaging in that action.

I use the favorites to mark something to read later, it means that I'm interested in some link that was posted but I wasn't in conditions to read at that time. The OP service is spammy but no one told me that the favorites should only be used in the way you describe.

The scenario you described sounds like exactly what I said, with different words. You, a living, breathing person, saw the tweet, enjoyed it to the point where you said you want to check it out later, enough such that you decided to favorite it.

edit: The main point being that the intended purpose is to communicate that an actual person actively read the tweet, and for whatever their reasons, actively decided to favorite the tweet.

But the act of "looking into their profile" is valuable to the spammer. You get an ad when you do that. So, it doesn't matter if you follow them or not. If you do follow them, of course, it means they have direct access to send you ads. If you don't because you viewed their profile, you at least saw one of their ads.

"You get what you deserve"

Please don't use that rationale. Lots of people never get what they deserve, and pretty much nobody deserves the shit some people have to go through.

Either way, there are some people who don't just follow back, so they don't deserve the spam even by your definition. Most people here can automate follows, favorites and similar interactions, but don't. Some of us would like to keep those meaningful.

I see where you're coming from but let's put this another way:

If a service simply pulled a list of tweets from users that you might be interested in there's nothing wrong with that, correct? It's just curating a list of tweets for you. There's also nothing stopping you from favoriting them all to get the most attention from those users.

But when the human act is entirely faked it's spam. And I agree. But it's also a pretty slight distinction we're making since humans can easily choose to behave like bots.

I wouldn't say it's a slight distinction. Humans may be able to behave like bots by mass-favoriting tweets, but they will never be able to achieve the volume that bots do.

This is: 1. spam, albeit targeted 2. intentionally deceptive 3. effective (because of #2 though)

Twitter may: 1. shut you down 2. offer you a job 3. give you nothing 4. see no benefit in letting you use their API. But depends on whether your idea for it adds value.

OP: 1. is innovative 2. probably didn't expect it to work so well 3. realizes as soon as they notice, he is toast 4. is trying to offer an olive branch 5. is likely doing some good, despite the deception

My advice to OP: 1. Use your innovation to subvert something that harms the public good, thereby making the world a better place. If you are really clever, you will figure out how to do this and make money too. 2. Keep thinking about this problem, and how you can do it in a honest way, which won't lead to abuse or dilute the value of the platform (any platform, not just Twitter).

If they algorithmically narrowed it down to a list of tweets that the brand should favorite, and someone on the other end picked one, is that spam? What if they narrow it down to one, and the human just clicks every single suggestion? How much human do you have to cut out for it to be spam?

This is detestable. I hope everyone can translate this blog post accordingly. If not, here it is:

"I publicly acknowledge I'm wrong. I'm letting Twitter know they should shut me down, but I'm just going to keep riding while the money is hot. Everyone will think I'm a great guy because of this post and my reputation will be salvaged after I'm shut down."

Spammers are the lowest. If the OP has any shred of dignity left he would shut down before Twitter can do that for him.

He's not a spammer, and the service actually benefits the tweet authors to some degree which cannot be said for spam. Favorite counts are posted publicly, which at least theoretically adds to the user's credibility. Additionally, the accounts doing the favoriting will have some real followers, and those followers will see the favorite and might retweet or favorite it themselves.

Given these facts, I'm not sure how many Twitter users actually care if the favorites they receive are genuine or not. The reality is that few users on Twitter are real anyway. We once paid thousands of dollars for a tweet to go out to millions of followers of a celebrity. The cost wound up being about $207 per collected email address for a free newsletter that was highly targeted to that celebrity's followers. We got tons of hits to the link, but approximately 94% of the traffic to the link posted was bot traffic. This was a celebrity that the ad network we used to purchase the tweet had rated as having extremely high follower engagement metrics - apparently they didn't bother checking user agents when determining this. If you want actual users listening to you, don't go to Twitter.

> Favorite counts are posted publicly, which at least theoretically adds to the user's credibility.

Yes, but that's exactly the reason why OP's behavior can be labeled as spamming. You "theoretically" adds to the user's credibility, but by automated means, so the added credibility is actually artificial, which then diminish the value of "credibility by the number of favorites" for everyone.

I'm not sure it's possible to diminish the value of credibility on Twitter.

> those followers will see the favorite and might retweet or favorite it themselves

Um, no they won't. Things you favorite don't show up to others unless they specifically go and look at things you have favorited.

Twitter actually has an entire team dedicated to killing spam.

Their actually doing a pretty good job for the amount of spam they actually have to deal with. Once they figure out that people have started to use favorites to spam, they'll start killing those kind of spammers too.

Much respect to people fighting spam. It's one of the greatest challenges of the Internet age.

I agree. The OP foolishly brought Twitter's attention to his schemes. They will probably shut it down due to the spammy nature, not because it competes with their ads.

I think he wants to be shut down because he feels guilty about being the last one standing despite being in clear violation of the TOS ( I suppose, though I haven't read the TOS and I'm not sure the author has either - can he point to which clause he is in violation of? )

If he wanted to be shut down over guilty feelings, he could, you know, just stop. So that's probably not it.

It's amazing how much devs want to build on top of Twitter. There's got to be an opportunity for Twitter to monetize that instead of fighting it and pissing everyone off. Why can't they just have some reasonable fees for API access?

There's got to be an opportunity for Twitter to monetize that instead of fighting it and pissing everyone off.

Agreed, and speaking personally, I would love to pay Twitter $XXX/month, especially if it included some form of "we'll reply to X emails within an hour" support.

The fact that they're not even charging $20/month for minimal API access is baffling to me. I'd expect it'd only help reduce spam as well!

> The fact that they're not even charging $20/month for minimal API access is baffling to me.

The devs who experiment and make something cool are often worth more than the minimal charge.

However I would agree that rather than having arbitrary limits using devs as a revenue stream makes sense (give everyone a portion of what you currently allow and allow payed upgrades)

give everyone a portion of what you currently allow and allow payed upgrades

Exactly - there are plenty of options available.

The devs who experiment and make something cool are often worth more than the minimal charge.

I'm just wondering how many such developers would be put off by such a relatively small charge?

Obviously, the situation now is very different to when Twitter was still building momentum.

I'm just confused that they don't come out and say "From the 1st of May, we will be charging all new API accounts for access."

Making someone make a purchase decision to play around with your platform blocks some people from ever using your platform. You don't need to let everyone play for free, but allowing say 1,000 requests a month at no cost would get some extra people to try out your platform.

For $20/month they'd probably spend more on the accounting infrastructure and payment gateway than they'd generate.

It's like (snail) mailing someone a bill for $0.25.

This isn't accurate. The infrastructure is setup once they started billing people. I think the support side is what will eat at the profits... a million $20/month users can be very demanding until they figure out what they're doing.

Amazon seem quite happy to charge me $0.50 a month, and they seem to be doing alright.

Yes, but that's Amazon's core business. It's not Twitter's core business.

Charging people money for goods and services is everyone's core business.

No, it's not actually. You could maybe make the argument that it should be, but it isn't.

It is, but only when it actually makes sense.

If they put a paywall on their IP, then they'd be bound to have a reasonable support structure in place.

No one in their right mind would want to support the Twitter or Facebook API's...

No one in their right mind would want to support the Twitter or Facebook API's...

This could be done sensibly though: limit the number of emails per month; or only include support in higher-priced plans.

eBay's API can be pretty tricky at times, and if you want any help that doesn't involve using their forums, it costs $75/hour:


I don't follow. Why does any company implement and support a pay-for-access API then? I'm sure there are folks at Square or Stripe who are happy to support their API.

I think employees would be happy to support an API, if it is a revenue producing product.

Nonsense. They wouldn't be bound to anything.

There are people making millions using these APIs now with no support. Why would charging them $25/month suddenly require support?

Or just a share on ads like adsense does...

I'm (somewhat) surprised by the lashing out and negativity towards the service in many of the comments.

Any product or service can be used for evil by evil people.

I've used Myles' service. It works amazingly well. So well, in fact, we looked at using his API to integrate the functionality into Socialyzer. We ended up not coming to terms and we built some scripts to do this for ourselves internally.

We use this functionality to build a very targeted following of people who may find our service (http://www.rewardrkt.com) useful . Our conversation rates from favorite, to follow, to registration on our site are extremely high. The people we auto-favorite are finding value in what we offer.

Favoriting their tweets is an efficient way to "introduce" yourself to someone without being super pushy.

After Twitter shutting down Flattr I reached out to Myles again to see if he'd seen the news. Of course he had, and I see his blog post as a bold move. Why wait around for doomsday if you can either (1) make it go away or (2) bring it about faster and move on to the next thing afterward.

So you spam favorite twitter too? You know you are breaking twitters tos just like the op and degrading the value of twitter the same way an email spammer degrades email?

De-valuing it for whom, exactly? Given the number of people who are following us back and registering for a service that is extremely relevant/important to them, it's hard to see how there is any degradation of value for anyone involved.

In fact, they are gaining value out of it.

That sounds exactly like the rationalization any spammer would make. After all, some people want an online pharmacy, right?

You can say any rationalization would be exactly like the rationalization a spammer would make.

Who's spamming and who is not?

I would argue that the way we're doing this is not spam, as it is clear the people we favorite are getting value by virtue of the fact that they are following us, registering for our service, etc.

Some serious questions:

What percentage of people who you auto-favorite follow you back and/or register for your service? What threshold do you consider appropriate.

Do you have any visibility into the people who are annoyed by seeing your robot interaction in a place that they feel should be reserved for human interactions?

How would you feel if every single service provider interested in finding you were to favorite all of your tweets to get your attention?

> What percentage of people who you auto-favorite follow you back and/or register for your service? What threshold do you consider appropriate.

It is greater than 50%. As I said, we do this in an extremely targeted way. We may only favorite 10 tweets in a day because the targeting we do is so specific. To be honest, I haven't thought about any particular threshold being appropriate/not.

> Do you have any visibility into the people who are annoyed by seeing your robot interaction in a place that they feel should be reserved for human interactions?

No, but I think you already knew that. This question sounds like your projecting your personal feelings quite a bit.

> How would you feel if every single service provider interested in finding you were to favorite all of your tweets to get your attention?

Personally, I wouldn't even notice it. I have all notifications turned off for that type of stuff. If anything, they'd be giving me more exposure to the people who may look at their account/favorites.

I'd like to tweak your final question (with the assumption that this sort of thing could, someday, provide value).

"How would you feel if every single service provider you were interested in finding were to favorite all of your tweets to get your attention."

I'm not suggesting that the technology is there yet, but the future is a big place.

That premise is entirely backwards.

Anyone I'm interested in finding I'll go searching for. They don't need to inject themselves into my interactions list just because they might trick me into getting my attention.

Do you want to get my attention? Great. There are plenty of well understood and well established ways of doing that. Place an ad in my favorite magazine, sponsor a podcast, create something so great that people can't resist telling me about it. Just don't spam me and pretend you're doing me a favor.

The technology is already there. This is, to a degree, what we do at Socialyzer.

We analyze your social audience (location, activity, tweet content, etc) and use that information to predict when and where you should engage with them.

We don't take it to any automated action other than publishing your content, but it's possible to do.

> Our conversation rates from favorite, to follow, to registration on our site are extremely high.

Can you give an indication how high? Greater than 1%? 10%?

Does (somewhat) surprised mean that you know it's kinda spammy and are willing to ride that grey area til it gets shut down?

Or you think it's just a super clever (and cheap) way to get around actually paying Twitter to promote your posts?

How effective it is doesn't enter into the equation really.

To be honest I never even thought of the service as spammy, which is why I was surprised to read so much of that in the comments here.

If people are upset/annoyed that is was automated.. fine.. do it manually.. the fact remains that it is a very effective method to build your audience in a targeted fashion.

Maybe Myles should just "pivot" to compete with Little Bird and focus on just surfacing the data on who you SHOULD be engaging with.

The problem with the approach of wanting to get caught, is the assumption that Twitter is going to care whether your approach is superior to their Twitter Ads approach. They will not care, judging by their past history. They'll most likely shut you down and go about their business with Twitter Ads. These days Twitter is an extraordinarily rigid company when it comes to anything outside their borders.

He knows he will be shut down with or without this blog post. Twitter already knows about him.

The purpose of this blog post is to save what little of his reputation is left by making it seem like he's redeeming himself. He isn't. He's waiting for Twitter to shut him down while he keeps making money as a spammer.

I'm confused. Why would someone who's running a profitable business, that works, expose their techniques at the risk of killing the business? You know it may be shut down at some point, so print cash until that point arrives. Not sure why someone would sabotage their own business this way. Is the appeal of recognition that significant?

Short term: wants a meeting, and this should probably do the trick. Long term: doesn't want get killed, prefers to partner with Twitter and sustain a lesser profit margin for a longer period of time.

I say a slow clap is in order here, no matter what his true intentions are, only if for being so focused on what he wants from Twitter Inc.

Almost certainly will be nuked before the end of week, perhaps by end of day.

There goes $50/month/customer, for someone with supposedly hundreds of customers. He probably could have gotten at least a couple months more without being shut down and some free publicity on Hacker News afterwards complaining about being shut down, but he traded that for a maybe 1% chance at some kind of introduction.

And, I guess, a HN post in a couple hours complaining about being ingloriously shuttered.

maybe even a couple of years if he keeps it under the radar and don't grow too much.

The chances of him partnering with Twitter are close to nil. This is a very dumb move by his part that will probably lead to a loss of income for the next few years.

I'd guess that he's 100% prepared for this and has weighed the risks.

I'm making a big presumption about his intelligence though.

Short term: probably will get killed.

But why would Twitter want to partner with him?

It's a PR ploy.


You're a bad citizen, mate. Not of Twitter, but of the Internet. The things you are doing are helpful to shitty people who want to get followers artificially, and obnoxious to good people.

No, if he were a bad citizen, he wouldn't have written this post. He's a morally ambiguous citizen at worst. He's drawing attention to this kind of abuse, so maybe Twitter will do something about it before it starts pissing everyone off and driving them away from the service.

No, it's an obvious plea for attention. He wants to get bought or hired; or perhaps he wants to trade in his business for notoriety. Obnoxious either way.

My first thought is: This is a great way to get their attention. If you've been surreptitiously flying under the radar up until now, I think that stage is long gone.

On the flip side, maybe instead of shutting you down, they should acquire you and then shut you down. That's a win-win, right?

Why would they acquire him when they could shut him down and replicate the service? It's not like they have much of a reputation to maintain. He doesn't have extremely significant traction (otherwise they would have done something by now) and AFAICT he doesn't hold any patents.

To clarify: I don't mean to disparage him, but acquisitions have to bring some sort of value to the acquirer.

Why would they replicate this service? They'd "destroy" the function of favorites for some revenue? Are they that desperate?

These aren't ads. These are "person abc favorited your tweet" notifications that the mobile twitter client pops up, and twitter emails you. If that gets overrun by spam (a) people will turn them off and (b) favorites will be useless as a mechanism for displaying "top tweets" like they do.

The cost to Twitter of even re-discovering what it is about his API and analytics that his customers prefer to Twitter Ads could easily outweigh the cost of an acqui-hire.

The value could well be in the person they pick up rather than his product (or there could well be bits of the product that are genuinely useful to them, and a potentially interesting customer base)

He is monetizing Twitter in a way that advertisers like better than what Twitter's own advertising department came up with. That has to be worth something to a company desperate for revenue.

Given the small scale of the data points in question, there's no way to make the claim that advertisers in general like his product more than Twitter's. Even if I find that entirely plausible, I have to disagree with making such a dramatic statement without much larger scale testing.

Even in the case of this all being true, the real problem is the ability of in-house people to ignore reality and refuse to favor a not-made-here product. Always difficult to tell which way the wind will blow on that. Companies make really stupid decisions all the time.

Forget ads, advertisers would love to be able to pay to increase their follower counts. Like a force follow feature.

Make it $1 for every follower, straight-up no ads or nothing. For $100,000 I can get 100,000 more real human followers on my account. Advertisers would love that better than promoted tweets or bot favorites.

But is that good for the users?

Or they could first shut him down, and then try to acquire very cheaply. It's a very precarious situation to be in.

There is another flaw in the business model: It feeds off the assumption that when someone favourites one of your tweets, it's because a person liked it, not a bot trolling for followers. I suspect the reason Twitter Ads is 20x more expensive for a follower is that it explicitly states that it's a "promoted tweet" and that throws up all kinds of guards. Once that cat is out of the bag, the cost to acquire a follower using the favourite-method is going to go up.

I don't know what % of Twitter users i'd be bucketed with for this comment but I think Twitter "Promoted Tweets" are probably the ad I most prefer to view. I'd hesitate a guess at how many i've clicked on (Probably 20%) but they have always been the most relevant to what I am interested in at a given time, compared to re-targeting/ad-words which aren't necessarily relevant to what I am interested in but are more point-in-time associated.

Presumably Twitter achieve this based on stats like who I follow (including who i've followed recently) and i'd guess search activity etc. but hey, works for me.

I think the fact that it remains in the mentions pane has more of an effect than people being turned off because it says "promoted tweet".

Another commons, another tragedy. Sigh.

Yeah, it's really hard to get in touch with anybody at Twitter.

My account has been hosed for two weeks, I log in and just get an error message -- once I log in I can't even view the help page. And of course, there's no option on their forms for the problem I'm actually having. I've been thinking about sending a fax to their number for law enforcement queries since somebody might at least see it before they throw it away.

Even the AP Twitter accounts are taking eons to bring back from suspension. Twitter haven't exactly streamlined that process, to say the least.

Honestly I don't know if I'm suspended or not.

I'm certainly not getting a message saying that I am, but I could be hellbanned in some special way.

It definitely makes me question if Twitter is going to be part of my life and the web sites I make in the future though.

Even trying to get someone there to go through the hiring process is nearly impossible. Getting their campus recruiter to respond (even though he was the one who reached out to us) was a pain for everyone I know who has tried. After receiving the response of "Yeah, we will interview you!" I had to email him around 5 times before he finally responded with the "give me some interview availability" email. And after the first phone interview, despite the interviewer being super excited and telling me I'd have another round, all I got from the recruiter was silence.

One of my friends who applied, was told he had to email the recruiter daily in order to expect a response. And then ended up being called in the middle of class, because the recruiter never bothered to tell him he had scheduled an interview for him.

I receive an Internal Server Error. Here's a link to the cache - http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ahttp%...

Twitter listened.

How could Twitter shut down his blog?

From a purely technical perspective they could using platform.twitter.com/widgets.js that the blog includes.

I sincerely doubt they would use their external JS to take down competitors websites. They would instantly lose any trust across the whole internet.

Of course it would be a completely stupid thing for Twitter to do (unless they get hacked). Just saying that technically it is possible.

A completely stupid thing for Twitter to do, like writing a post about their 12 hours of downtime ending in rollback by

1. starting the post with 5 paragraphs and a list of all the virtues of Twitter's engineering

2. spin the fact that, after a simple DB screw-up in production it took them about 6 hours to decide to just rollback from a backup

3. end the "postmortem" (which is, by the way, completely devoid of apology) by trying to hire

all the while talking about how working at Twitter is like building a rocket mid-flight (so, just like every other company)?


I don't think that would result in an internal server error.

With some effort it could result in an internal server error. With no effort it could result in an "Internal Server Error" being printed.

True. I hadn't considered that.

Karma police.

You only have to put up with it for a few more days. Once my antidepressants kick in I'll go back to one comment a week.

Twitter is big brother

Even before Twitter's recent aggressive behavior towards developers I would have expected this to get shut down. If this became something widely used Twitter value to me would decline. The entire favorite feature would just start to be ignored by a majority of users.

I agree, it's a social hack of sorts that he's using for advertisement, which is cool, but abuse of it would render favorites meaningless and it would become spam. However, I could see how if @pepsi wanted to favorite a tweet by @averagejoe because it said 'this new pepsi can is awesome!' it would seem legitimate enough and not spammy.

Yeah, savvy companies are getting away from the annoying "RT every nice thing people say about my company" with 'fave it and then point the faves at people if they want testimonials". Hostgator does this well: http://twitter.com/hostgator/favorites

If you want to see both sides of that, I actually track positive and negative mentions and do some analytics too. Same company: http://reviewsignal.com/webhosting/company/1/hostgator/

I don't understand what you mean by "point the faves at people if they want testimonials". Looks to me like they're just favoriting positive feedback that is sent to them

I think the favorite feature should be a private thing, just something to save for later or remember, at least that's what I'm using it for.

I don't think the feature itself would be ignored. His service doesn't destroy the usefulness of favoriting itself.

It would however cause users to start ignoring Twitter messages/notifications. People are already ignoring responses from people they don't know, and it can get even worse if we think most people interacting with us are just bots.

Favoriting is now a misnomer. In practice, its value is as Facebook's "like" button on a post. That is, to signal to the other person. So yes, it destroys the usefulness of favoriting.

> His service doesn't destroy the usefulness of favoriting itself.

On the contrary - it does. Because the point of "favoriting" is that when my tweet is favorited, I expect that the other party liked it. Now that's not true anymore, since it could have just been a bot who performed that action based on keyword-targeting me, not by judging that the tweet has a value to be favorited.

Having signed up myself out of curiosity, I can't actually find any method of paying for the service, which I find strange as you mention you're making a lot of money from this venture.

For me, it just sounds like this project is merely a throwaway project and the aim is to get banned, at least then to get onto the Ads API where they may have another concept, but couldn't get on it any other way.

Might be me, might just be extra dubious, but it doesn't look right to me.

The whole story smacks of a PR stunt to me.

My guess is he's really looking for a job. Or testing the hack-ability of ycombinator (and non-researched news aggregators in general).

I don't like this trend with services being shut down by the big guys in the industry. You see what happened with AppGratis, and now this. I understand the whole TOS violation thing, but when a big company can shut down a successful startup just because they don't like what they're doing, it doesn't jive with that whole capitalism thing.

Is there anything we can do about this, or is it just a product of building on someone else's platform? Obviously, this has happened throughout history, but on a much smaller scale. I can't recall something as prevalent and simply integral to most people's everyday lives as Twitter/Facebook/the App Store where this sort of heavy-handedness could happen. Even when Windows was in its prime, people could pretty much build anything they wanted for it (for better or for worse).

If you camp out in somebody else's walled garden, you can't really complain when they decide they don't like the mess you're making and throw you out. Trying to prevent this somehow (and how, exactly? Legislatively mandated API access?) would be much more anti-capitalist.

If somebody started a very successful business on your lawn in a campervan, would you not want them off? It's not about them being successful or not - it's just that they are on your own property. Even worse in this case, because not only he is camping out on their lawn, he is actively cutting into their profits.

It would surprise me if this was new. I bet this kind of thing has happened for as long as business has happened, but the owned-resource being built on was more likely real estate, whether it was some lord who could kick a peasant off his land or some industrialist who could shut down a shop owner in the town he built for his factory.

If anything, we might be less susceptible to it now. It would make a fascinating study, anyway.

The thing is that the instead of it being real estate with maybe 1,000 tenants, its a service that has hundreds of millions of users. Facebook has over a billion. I don't know if anyone has had the power to shut off access to that many people before.

Yeah, but there's a big difference between shutting off my Twitter access and literally removing me from the land I live on.

Power existing where capital pools is exactly what capitalism is. What did you expect?

Even though, Im not a fan of your "spam" approach (and the fact that you're still a kid taking people for total idiots) I must admit the idea and especially what it lead to is a success, at least for you.

My opinion, is that ads suck, most of them do (except the ones that make you laugh and remain classics which in that case fall into another category, and as far as I'm concerned that only happened with TV commercials and a very few "internet" ones) ... and being spammed even though it's becoming a habbit with all the interwebs bullshit we've been and have to digest everyday is more than annoying.

You seem to be smart and you should definetly put your talent in something else.

Are there any legal implications about publicly admitting that you are knowingly violating a site's Terms of Use? It is surprisingly hard to search for existing precedents if you don't already have a decent knowledge of legalese.

Disclaimer: IANAL, talk to a lawyer if this is more than a hypothetical question.

Under US law, the 9th circuit held in a criminal case that an employee who violates employer computer access policies with intent to defraud and by that action furthers the intended fraud and obtains something of value. http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca9/10-...

The 1st Circuit held in a civil case found grounds to uphold an injunction against someone redistributing data obtained from a scraper on the grounds that scraping public data in the circumstances exceeded authorised access, and that the data was something of value that would harm the target website. http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F3/318/...

I don't think these laws are a good thing, but the reality is that US courts have found that accessing websites for purposes beyond the terms of services with 'intent to defraud' violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Defrauding could potentially mean misleading people into following you on Twitter if having Twitter followers is valuable for marketing.

The OP's post could be introduced as evidence by Twitter that he intended to exceed authorised access, that he had intent to defraud, and that he knew his actions were harming Twitter. I think the OP would be well advised to take legal advice on whether to shut down the site now and / or retract the blog post (although it might be too late to suppress it now, given how many people have seen it and possibly archived it).

Yeah, this sort of thing isn't new. You just never hear about it due to how well it works. The OP has actually made a lot of people angry by making this public (not me, though). There are other ways to game these platforms. Twitter is actually quite susceptible in other ways (not telling). Anyhow, next time be smart about posting stuff like this. There are quite a lot of bad people gaming these platforms. A mistake and you could be on the cross hairs of a botnet.

So I tried out the service (followgen.com) today - targeting "#ruby", "software craftsmanship", "hacker news" and "software near MY_GEO_IP_THING" - because I was curious. It would be nice to have a bit more exposure to developers for things like technical blog posts and new projects, so why not?

It favorite'd several hundred tweets for me today (btw twitter makes it very hard to mass unfavorite, I had to write a bit of javascript). I got one new follower: a recruiter. Given the sub-one percent "conversion rate", I turned it off.

I'm not sure if I picked bad targets, or if more technical users are less likely to "follow-back". But, those were my results, do with them what you will!

edit: I'll add there were quite a few "misfires" that led me to favorite some rather strange tweets - particularly #ruby which I favorited several tweets about people's young children or pets named Ruby.

The "plea for public support" blog post is getting old and frankly immature.

You knew Twitter's TOS & you broke them. That's okay if you're willing to put up with the business risk that--if you gain scale--Twitter may be forced to buy you (eBay/Paypal, Photobucket/Myspace) or at least work with you.

That said, your service as others acknowledge below is akin to spamming. This is not a service that is for the betterment of Twitter users AND advertisers. It merely betters your company's coiffeurs and advertisers who are getting "a deal."

You want to win Twitter over? Make it painfully obvious to customers what is occurring. Disclose your business metrics. Put out case studies that show how both users AND advertisers benefit.

The appeal for public support/disclosure is old hat.

Interesting read, but I'm kinda confused. Some questions:

- Why does the application have to be web based? Why don't you build a desktop application where the user has to use their own API key? This will also help bypass the IP limit.

- Aren't you already breaking their terms? [1]

"Using [third party applications to “Get More Followers Fast!”] is not allowed according to the Twitter Rules."

- How many favorites can an account do every day? Is it unlimited?

[1] https://support.twitter.com/articles/68916-following-rules-a...

I think the difference with this is he isn't following users, he is getting users to follow him.

you don't need more vms to get around their rate limit, you just need to query their api using a clientside language like javascript, that way the ip twitter gets is the ip of the user, not your servers. The company I work at has awesome search, so I have a tool which grabs tweets from individual user's streams (if a customer has an issue with my product and tweets about it I like to search their public twitter stream to see if they've mentioned us or our competitors lately). My script is a python one using httplib, but I realized that I could just as easily make these queries using jquery and send them anywhere I like. This moves the rate limit from your server's ip to the user's ip. If a bunch of people are using your product from the same office it could be a bit of an issue but you could probably detect that (with their 420 chill out code) and use one of your vms ips until that office's ip cools off again. That'd probably make your overhead quite a bit cheaper I'd imagine.

obviously the users would have to be logged in for this to work, which in your case might not be the desired use. Still, this could be an optimization step that could save you some cash down the road.

What about cross domain restrictions?

I'm not quite sure I understand the point of this post. If you see spamming as an amoral activity, either shut it down yourself, or continue knowing that you are profiting from amoral activity.

If you don't, then please continue spamming. I think that would make you a pretty big a-hole, but it's your life. shrugs

Shameless plug.

One of the ways to start thwarting this spammy behavior is counter-network of twitter accounts, randomly inter-followed for further legitimacy.

Once a follower is identified as a spam, it's being mass followed. It would skew conversion rates and perhaps force clients to pay for fake followers, which they won't appreciate.

That's interesting... http://i.imgur.com/Idie3In.jpg

"My data showed the cost of a real, targeted follower on my platform was about 12 cents, versus $2.50 on Twitter Ads"

The cost is lower, but can someone do studies on the lifetime REVENUE of a real, targeted follower? It might all be meaningless if that number is 0.01 cents.

That people are willing to pay $2.50 implies that the value is at least $2.50. Of course it depends on how effective you are at getting value from your followers, so for many, the answer is close to 0 cents.

No, they could be completely different demographics. I'm personally much more likely to follow a twitter account I see in an advert (if it interests me) than a random account that favorites a tweet (which I will 100% ignore). There may also be people out there who are happy to follow anyone who favorites their tweet, but aren't at all desirable to advertisers and don't get shown that many adverts.

This isn't exclusive to Twitter. Not every person is worth the same value to advertisers. I advertise on platforms ranging between $0.20/click to $1.50/click, and different platforms offer different value per click.

I'm guessing they'll move fast to do exactly that now that you've waved the red rag in their face.

This part won't make them any happier:

>> I started renting a large cluster of virtual machines to scale the service while staying within Twitter's 'per IP address' rate limits.

There is another company that does this - I forget it's name, but they didn't explain what they did - just that they had a model to 'find quality followers'

Quickly I got sick of the number of favourites it did - it was really spammy. I am not a fan of this model.

Make as much $ from this effort and move on. Who gives a shit about what Twitter does or does not do. It's all just blather and nonsense anyway. If Twitter was shutdown tomorrow - would anyone care - hell no.

This isn't really anything new. Countless people and companies do follows, favorites, etc. just to send that notification and get some eyeballs. Props to him for automating it and monetizing it, though.

Countless people and companies do emailing others to send them something. If you automate and monetize it, it is a spamming.

So specifically what "Terms of Service" is he violating? I looked through it and couldn't find anything specific that addresses automated "favoriting". There was some vague stuff about spam.

I couldn't find a link to your startup anywhere, do you have a link?

SSL cert issues (according to chrome for ipad)

I checked it here https://www.digicert.com/help

And the result is http://imgur.com/pXVWaue

Hope the author finds this and fixes it.

Or on Chrome on OS X. Check your device and connection, someone might be trying to MITM you.

Chrome on linux is happy with it.

didn't get that w/ IE10 on W7

It's probably missing an intermediate cert. Firefox and Chrome for mobile warn about that, but not desktop Chrome (and it seems some versions of IE)


This is cool!

An option that is probably more likely to be API TOS friendly is to show the user relevant tweets and suggest that they favorite, rather than auto-favoriting them.

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

What grade did your professor give you for this project? Wasn't there any other interesting behaviour changing project from your class?

This is part of the reason I stopped using twitter and haven't looked back. It detracts from the overall UX.

This is just an amazing story. Love it.

Why do I feel like this is thinly veiled way of saying "Twitter should acquire me / hire me"?

I don't get email notifications if someone I don't follow favorites me.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this service automates the process of favoriting someone's tweet? What was the conversion rate in terms of someone following you back if you favorited their tweet?

Yes, that's what the service does. He claims that it worked really well and people were willing to pay $50/month for it, so there must have been a decent conversion.

Agreed, twitter should shut you down.

This is an incredible idea, and it looks like you executed your design well, and even had the gusto to put school aside to go 100%.

If anyone deserves to succeed, it's you man. I hope twitter comes around for you.

Really? He just came up with a different way to spam people and you're wishing him well? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

I think that part of the problem here is a perspective created by the previous abuses of an activity. That activity is advertising. It isn't inherently bad to attempt to reach out to someone with something they might think is cool. The problem is, historically, the things advertisements show us suck. Because of this, we automatically associate attempts to connect a person with something they might be interested in to be bad if the attempt is initiated by the producer of the good or service.

There are good reasons for this, but it it's still a generalization. Like all generalizations, it isn't always true. It might be the case that this service actually provides value to both parties: the person with the good or service initiating the activity and the person who is made aware of it. This is the definition of a win-win interaction. The only real way to determine the quality of this service is to try to measure whether value is being created on both sides.

I was walking down the street and a guy was waving a sword around with his eyes closed. Before I could react, he thrust the sword deep into my chest. Through some miracle, he avoided every vital organ and, stuck to the end of the sword as it burst through the back of my ribcage, was a huge cancerous tumor. That guy saved my life!

^^^^ this COULD MAYBE happen. I still don't want people to stab me with a sword.

I could MAYBE get spam that has something I want to buy. I still don't want to get spam.

When someone fav's one of my tweets, I get a notification. I like this because it tells me that someone liked something I said. It makes me happy. This reduces the value of these notifications and, if it becomes widespread, will probably make me turn off notifications, which will make me sad. Don't you see how this is producing negative value?

This is HN. Anything is awesome as long as you quit school to make a startup out of it. People here would congratulate a startup selling people as slaves as long as their domain ended in .io or .ly

As the saying goes, "Where there's profit, there's a way". If you feel that being in breach of Twitter's terms of service will get you shut down, you need to devote everything you've got to finding a solution where they don't can you, but you keep your revenue model. Maybe it's hard to hear, but I'd suggest trying harder to get a meeting with them, or hiring someone as a go-between to set up a meeting. Also, a technique that a friend taught me is to connect with the person below your actual target in the company, and build a relationship with them. Then they will help you set up a meeting with the person you actually need to talk to. (btw, they call this the Cheerleader tactic.) Good luck!

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