We were just forwarded an e-mail conversation between a Twitter API team member and a third-party developer because the latter was using a UI for its web-based service that was admittedly very similar to Twitter’s web application.
The startup of course has the right to protect its assets and do its utmost to avoid confusion with users who might think they’re using a Twitter product rather than that of a developer making use of its API.
But something else caught our attention in the thread:
Twitter, Inc is uncomfortable with the use of the word Tweet (our trademark) and the similarity in your UI and our own. How can we go about having you change your UI to better differentiate your offering from our own?
First of all, I had no idea that the word ‘tweet’ was trademarked by Twitter, and after browsing its Terms of Service and API documentation I couldn’t find any reference on their website about this either. (update: a commenter links to the US trademark application, which was filed April 16, 2009 and another one claims a trademark application has been filed in Europe in June as well)
Second, I’m assuming that the note about the company being ‘uncomfortable’ with the use of the term was in reference to the combination of that with the closely resembling UI of the web application. If I’m wrong and this signals that Twitter wants to move forward with actively barring third-party apps from using the word ‘tweet’ in their names in the same way that it refrains them from using the word ‘twitter’, then this could have consequences for a plethora of developers.
Should TweetDeck, TweetMeme, Tweetie, BackTweets, Tweetboard etc. start worrying?
We’ve asked Twitter management for clarification.
Update: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s response (emphasis ours):
“The ecosystem growing around Twitter is something we very much believe in nourishing and supporting. As part of this support, we encourage developers of new applications and services built using Twitter APIs to invent original branding for their projects rather than use our marks, logos, or look and feel. This approach leaves room for applications to evolve as they grow and it avoids potential confusion down the line.
As we build our platform team, we will be adding more guidelines and best practices to help developers get the most out of our growing set of open APIs. We have healthy relationships with existing developers who sometimes include Twitter logos, marks, or look and feel in their applications and services. We’ll continue to work together in a fair and flexible way to ensure success for Twitter, developers, and everyone who uses these services.”
It’s a rather vague statement that doesn’t really make it clear whether the use of the word ‘tweet’ is now frowned upon or not. We’ll see when the API team puts forward clear guidelines on this in the future.