When iPhone apps first came out, there were two iPhone apps people tended to go with for accessing and posting to the popular Twitter service: Twinkle and Twitterific. Since then, superior applications such as TwitterFon and Tweetie have hit the market but the first to market advantage has ensured some measure of popularity with the original applications.
It seems that Twinkle is taking advantage of their popularity in a completely irresponsible manner.
Before I go into details, let me quickly recap how Twitter’s conversations work. When you publicly reply to a person on Twitter, you type @USERNAME. So if my username was kevin, you’d type “@kevin that’s so true!”. Twitter and pretty much all Twitter applications support this syntax by providing a “replies” view which shows you every public Twitter that starts with @YOURUSERNAME. So you can see that it’s fairly important for these usernames to remain unique.
Enter Twinkle, who turn out to not just be a Twitter application, but a social network of their own. A person who uses Twinkle doesn’t have to be a Twitter user as well. They might just be Twinkle users, with Twinkle usernames. Thus, there are now two sets of namespaces with duplicate identities that might belong to two different people (a person named Peter on Twitter and a different person named Peter on Twinkle).
Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. I have usernames all over the place. However, Twinkle decided that the way a Twinkle user should reply to other Twinkle users is also with the @ syntax and if the poster happens to use Twitter as well, that reply goes to Twitter.
What does this mean?
Let’s say there is a Twitter and Twinkle user and his username is Peter on both services. He has a friend who is on Twinkle only and her username is Jane. Suppose Jane says something witty on Twinkle and Peter decides to respond:
@jane LOL. That’s pretty brilliant, mate.
As a user of both services, his response goes out on both channels — Twitter and Twinkle.
At the same time, JaneB, a Twitter user who has never heard of Twinkle and the owner of the Twitter username @jane, logs onto Twitter. She checks her replies tab and notices Peter’s message. Except she has no clue who Peter is, nor what he thinks that her last Twitter message about her aunt being ill is all that brilliant or funny.
Essentially, Twinkle’s poor product design, or if you give them less credit, their irresponsible product design, is hijacking Twitter usernames. I’m not the only one who’s noticed this, either. Their Get Satisfaction page includes a number of threads like this:
The poster is right. It is completely unacceptable. In an environment where we’re trying to find solutions like OpenID to consolidate our identities, Twinkle has managed to find a way to create an application that now muddies the definition of who owns a username. The question is, what can really be done? My suggestion is that Twinkle doesn’t ever cross post responses to Twinkle users to Twitter as well.
But the real question is, what’s to stop anyone from coming onto Twitter and creating a similar kind of clusterf**k, polluting or spamming every @name there is?
Update: It looks like in addition to using the @ syntax, they also allow spaces and special characters (e.g., commas, dashes, etc.) as usernames. So now if your username is @kevin on Twitter, you may be getting responses in your replies tab for people who say “@kevin spacey” or “@kevin.cheng”. If you wish to voice a complaint to Twinkle and Tapulous, you may want to add your thoughts on this thread.