Twitter forces Flattr to stop letting users tip ‘favorited’ tweets

Less than a month after Flattr made it possible to leave virtual tips for tweeters by favoriting tweets, Twitter has told the Swedish micropayments company to cut it out.

Flattr, co-founded by The Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde, is quite a simple system. The user signs up to donate a certain amount — $5 for example — each month, and then “flattrs” people for their content, with the recipient getting an amount equal to the monthly pot divided by the number of flattrs the user has made. It was originally for tipping bloggers who had Flattr buttons on their sites, but last month the company expanded the functionality to allow the automatic tipping of people posting on Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram and other sites.

However, Flattr has now removed the Twitter functionality after Twitter asked it to desist. As Flattr co-founder Linus Olsson explained in a blog post on Tuesday:

“Recently Twitter contacted us and told us that we are violating their API terms citing the second part of a clause (IV. Commercial Use, 2C. Advertising Around Twitter Content) saying ‘Your advertisements cannot resemble or reasonably be confused by users as a Tweet. For example, ads cannot have Tweet actions like follow, retweet, favorite, and reply. And you cannot sell or receive compensation for Tweet actions or the placement of Tweet actions on your Service.’

“This is a quite logical clause as it would stop companies to sell e.g. retweets and followers. It’s an understandable rule to keep the Twitter network clean but in this case the rule is strangely stomping out innovation on their platform.”

Now, Flattr is a for-profit firm that takes a 10 percent cut of payments carried out over its system. But even after Flattr offered to forego that cut in the case of flattred tweets, Twitter apparently said no. So, from today, favoriting tweets won’t result in the tweeter getting money — although those using the Flattr browser extension can still “flattr” tweeters through this alternative mechanism.

I’ve asked Twitter whether it sees another way in which Flattr can operate on its platform, but am yet to receive a response.

On the face of it, this action of Twitter’s seems to tally with its recent shutting-down of Ribbon’s service, which used Twitter’s Cards technology to allow full-on payments to take place within tweets themselves. However, Ribbon and Flattr appear to have broken two different rules — in Ribbon’s case, it looks like the company wasn’t making the right kind of Cards access request, and in Flattr’s it was the contravention of the tweet action regulation.

It’s probably too early to tell whether Twitter has an ulterior motive here, but Olsson suspects it does. As he told me:

“I would speculate that they want to control all the ways that money is changing hands on Twitter – if they control that, they can control the flow and in future get a cut of it. That would be a logical business model for Twitter – if you use Twitter to sell something you need to pay Twitter for it. I’m just speculating here, of course.”

Flattr will now put this theory to the test, Olsson added, by building a system “where you can send a flattr to someone on Twitter by tweeting them instead”. In the meantime, the service continues to expand its reach by adding YouTube(s goog) to the roster of services through which flattrs can be made.

I should probably add by way of disclosure that, since signing up for Flattr a month ago, I have received two flattrs for tweets of mine: one for €3 ($3.92 – I’m guessing the user didn’t favorite many tweets that month) and the other for €0.16. After Flattr took its cut, the remainder was €2.84, which is just less than the €3 that I have set as my monthly budget for flattring others.