How Much is a Tap on Twitter's Firehose Worth?

Twitter on Monday gave seven real-time search and discovery companies, ranging from "funded startups to part-time, one-man operations," access to 100% of its tweets. Twitter's so-called "firehose" is a valuable asset. The company has made partners such as Google, Microsoft, and most recently Yahoo! pay to use it in their own real-time searches. The move is part of a new, yet-to-be-standardized initiative of metered access for people and companies that build on Twitter.

From what we can gather, the startups aren't yet paying much, if anything, for what they're calling a "commercial licensing agreement" to access Twitter's firehose. That's fair. You can imagine that an operation such as Ellerdale's wouldn't pose the same category of demands on Twitter's infrastructure as one like Google's. What the deals represent is an effort toward formalization of Twitter's developer community, which now operates more than 50,000 applications.

Sean Garret, Twitter's new communications head, told us that while Twitter isn't disclosing the terms of the current partnerships, it plans to make them readily available in the future. "As the agreements standardize, we hope to make the terms well-known so developers know if the firehose is right for their business," he said. "Additionally, for current partners, we would like to help them plan for the future" as licensing costs increase with their business' maturity.

so far, lots of gratitude

Twitter had previously given firehose access to such startups as Summize, which it later bought, and FriendFeed. Garrett today called those arrangements "a dalliance" that was "short-lived" when Twitter shifted to focus on its core service in the face of extreme growth. He said the new deals are, by contrast, "sustainable and scalable."

The startups that were just given access are Ellerdale, Collecta, Kosmix, Scoopler, twazzup, CrowdEye, and Chainn Search. Previously they'd had access to only a limited rate of tweets—clearly a handicap when you're trying to respond to search queries and track trends in real time. In blog posts and tweets (except for Chainn Search, which doesn't yet appear to have a Web presence), the companies said they were grateful for the integration. Kosmix, for one, said it's not "ready to showcase or demo the integration just yet."

CrowdEye's Ken Moss had a more personal response, saying he was grateful that Twitter was delivering on relationships with developers after it had previously shown preferential treatment to companies that paid.

Twitter isn't formalizing these relationships out of kindness. The company is gearing up for a major monetization effort and will clearly expect developers to pay something. It's in Twitter's best interest for its developers to grow and contribute to its ecosystem.

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