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Twitter forced to cough raw feed after PeopleBrowsr wins temporary order

A little bird has ejected us from its 'warm spot', say data crunchers

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Twitter was slapped with a temporary restraining order yesterday, preventing it from terminating a tweets-for-cash contract it has with the data analysis company PeopleBrowsr.

Twitter wanted to end the million-dollar-a-year contract tomorrow, 30 November, but a judge in the Superior Court of the State of California court has ordered that Twitter keep providing its full tweet feed to PeopleBrowsr until a pending court case is decided.

PeopleBrowsr relies on the "Firehose" - the raw twitter feed of more than 400 million tweets a day - to provide the information products that they sell.

Twitter wants to renegotiate the contract, give PeopleBrowser only a portion of the Firehose, and make it license the data through a Twitter data reseller rather than directly through Twitter as it does now. PeopleBrowsr has claimed that will cripple its business:

A mere sample of Twitter data is insufficient to provide the analytics PeopleBrowsr’s web users and organizational clients expect. Without the Firehose, PeopleBrowsr cannot provide the products its users and contracting partners expect, and will suffer devastating damage to its goodwill and business relationships.

Those contracting partners include the US Department of Defense who has a $3m three-year deal with PeopleBrowsr to provide analytics and information on Twitter users.

According to a statement from PeopleBrowsr, the judge granted it the temporary restraining order yesterday.

PeopleBrowsr IS alleging that Twitter is behaving anticompetively in the analytics market by picking and choosing the businesses it does and doesn't want to work with. Twitter has chosen 3 Firehose partners who continue to get the full feed but PeopleBrowsr is not one of them.

PeopleBrowsr execs claim they were duped by Twitter's early promises to maintain an open ecosystem, and said their firm had been cruelly ejected from Twitter's "warm spot". The court case quotes a number of Twitter blog posts from the first few years of the service, including this one from 2009:

Twitter has a warm spot for innovative simplicity and an open approach to technology development … [O]ur open approach is more than just good karma. . . . Gaining trust means showing our work. When a technology is shared, conversations and understanding form around it.

Twitter isn't so worried about the karma these days. In a response to the complaint, filed by Twitter on the 12th November, Twitter dimissed all claims of antitrust and said PeopleBrowsr had no right to complain about business changes:

Twitter has created channel resyndication partnerships with Gnip, DataSift and Topsy. PeopleBrowsr is free to contract with any of them, just as its competitors do. What it is not free to do is insist that Twitter preserve forever its earlier business model

CEO Jodee Rich claims that PeopleBrowsr won’t be able to deliver on those contracts without full, unadulterated access to Twitter’s firehose. “We relied on Twitter’s promise of openness when we invested millions of dollars and thousands of hours of development time.”

Twitter execs said in the court documents that the social media company “acknowledged that terminating Firehose access would make it impossible for PeopleBrowsr to continue to provide the products it was contractually obligated to deliver, and could put PeopleBrowsr out of business entirely.”

A hearing date for a preliminary injunction has been set for 8 January, 2013. ®

CGC-12-526393 PeopleBrowsr, Inc & PeopleBrowsr, Pty V Twitter, Inc is being heard in the Superior Court of California, San Francisco. Documents uploaded by PeopleBrowsr here

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